Category: Politics and the Media

Navigating the difficult world of political media, misrepresentation, and the need for informed civil discourse

We’re All Detroiters Now

The big news this afternoon is that the Emergency Manager of Detroit, Kevin Orr, has received authorization from Governor Snyder to pursue a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing (the most recent story from the Detroit News is here.) Orr has been EM since March 1 and has been trying to restructure Detroit’s debts with limited success.

Chapter 9 only applies to municipalities. It’s similar to other forms of bankruptcy. It puts creditors’ claims on hold while working out some unusual plans to restructure the organization. According to Wikipedia, in Chapter 9

Municipalities’ ability to re-write collective bargaining agreements is much greater than in a corporate Chapter 11 bankruptcy and can trump state labor protections, allowing cities to renegotiate unsustainable pension or other benefits packages negotiated in flush times.

This is a key factor. The story in the News includes the following:

Unsecured creditors could take the biggest hit in bankruptcy court. Orr wants them to share a $2 billion payout on approximately $11.5 billion worth of debt, which includes an estimated $9.2 billion in health and pension benefits and $530 million in general-obligation bonds.

The story describes how some corporate creditors have agreed to take 75 cents on the dollar for what they are owed. That’s a significantly better deal than the 17 cents on the dollar the unsecured creditors may face.

Yesterday, driving from Kansas City to Indianapolis, we listened to Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy. It’s a tough story. My wife was asking hard questions about why it’s so depressing to teach social problems. LeDuff looks at Detroit through the lens of someone who grew up in the city proper and not in the affluent suburbs. He recounts difficulties with economics, lack of support for the above-mentioned civil servants who depend upon collective bargaining, corruption among civic leaders too often replaced by other corrupt civil leaders, drug culture, decline of the manufacturing base, white flight to the suburbs, corporate decision making (or lack thereof), and the failure of the press to address any of these issues. Many of these issues are explored through the vantage point of LeDuff’s family or his reporting, but he still touches on all the right issues. While he observes that the city motto speaks to “rising from the ashes”, the litany of concerns raises questions about how that will occur this time.

LeDuff spends a great deal of time on the story of a particular fire station. Underfunded, they make do with equipment that doesn’t work (the alarm has been jerry-rigged for when calls come in). They are mostly ignored by department bureaucrats and are disciplined when it’s learned that they described their situation to a reporter. But when one dies in an arson fire in one of the hundreds of houses they deal with, he is a hero. No recognition at all of the neglect that contributed to the firefighter’s death.

Charlie also does a good job of unpacking the city’s growth and eventual decline. The growth comes from Ford’s $5 per day minimum wage, the Great Migration  of the Southern blacks and Appalachian whites, and the dominance of the auto industry. But the seeds of difficulty were already there: Long term racial issues, corporate economics, the impact of the auto on urban sprawl and resulting suburbanization, and government corruption. The suburbanization of the late 60s, helped by white flight response to the 67 riots (meticulously kept as an urban problem within the Detroit city limits), is followed by the construction of McMansion suburbs far removed from Detroit’s urban challenges (which still benefit from the limited cultural and economic life).

Last year, on another drive, I listened to the audiobook of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. I didn’t like it, as I explained here. Murray, the author of such gems as The Bell Curve and Losing Ground. He follows his normal libertarian stance but part of his argument is worth attention. He observes that the richest segments of society are becoming increasingly separate from the poor. He mistakenly puts too much emphasis on value deficits of the poor while failing to examine the structural correlates of those issues. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the residential and cultural segmentation of the upper and middle classes lead directly to a declining tax base and reduced civic services. Those left behind in this new migration are those with limited options in terms of jobs, family, mobility, and even grocery stores. Let’s call it the Great Abandonment.

Two years ago, I wrote this piece the day Newt Gingrich announced he was running for president. As part of his announcement, he said this: “I know how to get the whole country to resemble Texas,” he said. “President Obama knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.”  As I wrote at the time, Texas was seeing purported economic growth by driving down wages, lessening safety net supports, and limited educational programming.

While Detroit’s crisis is real, it’s the natural outgrowth of poor economic planning, residential segregation, political gerrymandering, and an inability to address issues of racial inequality.

Sound familiar? All of these issues remain the real issues confronting America in the 21st century. I wish I had an example of a major metropolitan area that could be our model going forward, but nothing comes to mind.

Over the last 35 years, sociologist William Julius Wilson has been arguing that we need to address the concerns of the underclass. Outmigration would increase economic isolation, the black middle class would abandon their extended families, economic opportunities would drive up, and a group of people would give up on the American dream. I worry that Detroit is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

If it is that canary, we can expect more problems at firehouses, more fights over pensions, more inner city crime. As I’ve been writing this, Christianity Today has posted a story about Christians working in Detroit. I haven’t read it yet but I appreciate their efforts. Identification with the problem is better than finger-pointing. Because we’ve all got an interest in Detroit. It might just be our national future.

Sociological Ruminations on a Certain Trial in Florida

I have made a point not to watch any of the George Zimmerman trial, even though it’s been all over the media. I’m not a Trayvon Martin apologist. I don’t wish ill for Zimmerman. As others have suggested in the last eighteen hours, a not guilty verdict doesn’t mean there was no guilt present. It means that there was not sufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof written into our judicial system. There are only two people who really know what happened that night in February and one of them is dead. Everyone else is guessing.

There is still much for a sociologist to reflect upon. So here, in no particular order, are my reflections.

1. This was a local story. It’s a tragedy, of course. Regardless of the narrative that saw Trayvon as an aggressor or the one that saw George as a vigilante, it was an event in a small town in northern Florida. It never deserved to be the latest source of our national fascination with crime. It used to be that to avoid such exaggerations, I just had to avoid Nancy Grace. Now I can’t watch television or use the internet.

2. The story that should have been covered by the media involves the implications of Stand Your Ground laws. While the racial backdrop of the story is real (more below), the context of a bad law creates the context for the encounter. It’s worth looking at the actual wording of the Florida statute, even if Zimmerman used a self-defense strategy rather than SYG. Here’s the relevant passage for the Florida criminal code:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

This law is pretty much the model the conservative group ALEC has been providing to state legislators. But it’s bad law — not just because it deals with SYG but because there’s so much inference necessary in its implementation. When I first taught criminology, I told my students that good law had to be specific. Instead, we have a statute dependent upon what the actor “reasonably believes” about “himself or herself or another or to prevent a felony”. Who determines reasonable belief? Who evaluates whether necessity exists? What is the deal with “death or great bodily harm”? Where are those lines?

3. The social psychology of perception is the centerpiece of the case. Both Martin and Zimmerman had to take in a series of environmental cues (race is a key one) to determine a definition of the situation that would then frame potential courses of action. As W.I. Thomas wrote in the 1920s, “if  a [person] defines a situation as real it is real in its consequences”. The Thomas Theorem helps explain why Zimmerman would assume a young black man was a threat. It can explain why Martin felt force was necessary in striking back. There are far too many stimuli in an ambiguous situation allowing people to misread the situation. This was consistently shown in the innovative bystander intervention studies social psychologists conducted in the 1970s. Ambiguity is the enemy of rational action. Of course, SYG legislation raises the stakes in this otherwise uncertain situation.

4. The Criminal Justice system is not good at moral evaluation. This piece by Andrew Cohen from today’s Atlantic makes the case brilliantly. When one considers the structure of the adversarial system, the limitations on evidence, and the difficulty of demonstrating clear intent on the part of the accused, it’s hard to make a clear case. Restorative Justice advocates like Howard Zehr observe that the victim (in this case Martin’s family) has little role in the criminal justice process. Their needs are irrelevant to the back-and-forth of the two teams of advocates (the defendant is also a curious bystander encouraged to show no reaction at all during months of trial). Victimizing the victim is a legitimate defense strategy used when the goal is to introduce reasonable doubt.

5. The cable news networks  damaged the ability to explore the moral dynamics of the case. The unnecessary wall-to-wall coverage with their pet legal scholars failed in the essential task to inform. It was a blatant attempt at ratings manipulation — first in the discussions of whether charges should be filed and then in the day-to-day coverage of the trial itself. Their focus seemed on propelling a narrative more than exploring what happened. In the last two days, I heard Fox commentators denying that race is a factor in American Criminal Justice and complaining about politicization of the arraignment process (“Did you ever bring charges as a result of political pressure?”). CNN folks brought back Marcia Clark from the OJ trial (apparently without disclaimers regarding her expertise in sensational cases). They brought on racial experts to talk about assumptions about black youth. They brought on others to dispute that claim. Never did they explore the realities of a complex case with lots of moving parts. During the prosecution’s case, they piled on Zimmerman. During the defense, they picked holes in the prosecution’s case. Like sportscasters, they reported on which team had momentum without addressing what they talked about last week.

6. An unexplored component of this story is our fascination with guns. In spite of good evidence about victimization, we still celebrate the “heroic” effort of someone who used a firearm to stop the bad guy. It’s not surprising given our fascination with the tough guy image in entertainment culture. Try counting up the damage and dead bodies in an average hour of crime television (NCIS Los Angeles is my best illustration — they run about 6-8 dead bad guys a week). Even the Lone Ranger killed the bad guys (which he didn’t do on television).

7. We used this local story as a lens through which to identify our national inability to deal adequately with the complexities of age, race, and class. Too much time was spent picking winners and losers. Martin was an innocent or a thug. Zimmerman was a hero or a police-wannabe infatuated with his own supposed authority. The world is complex. As long as our discussions involve the choices of a) calling people racist who act on racist motives and b) declaring that we’re now in a post-racial society, we will never begin to deal honestly with what it means to live in a racially and ethnically diverse society. There are byproducts of privilege (check out Christena Cleveland’s excellent piece here) and its opposite that filter throughout the social fabric. That’s part of this story but not all the story is about.

When stories like the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case polarize the nation, we should be exploring why people come down in such different places. If we’d spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and Cable News exploring the reasons for these different views, we’d make progress. If all we do is to nod at our own folks and call others names, we can expect more of the same.

Hosea: The Reality Show

Today provided an interesting convergence of stories on the Huffington Post. Tom Krattenmaker wrote this piece which is a summary of folks from his book The Evangelicals You Don’t Know (my Amazon review is here). Tom points out that for all the media coverage given to folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, Westboro Baptist, and the like, the real story of influence is about folks like Gabe Lyons, Jim Henderson, and Kevin Palau. They are taking a very different approach to evangelicalism that is just as orthodox but less combative. It’s a positive sign for the next decade. Why don’t we know those names? How can thousands of people gather at Gabe Lyons’ Q LA last spring to explore new understandings of evangelical engagement and receive so little coverage? (I couldn’t find anything on the LA Times website but only did a cursory look.)

Tom tweeted about this HP story by Skye Jethani. Skye, who works at Christianity Today, explored the myth that evangelicals have been too political and that, in the wake of DOMA and Prop-8 decisions, may have learned their lessons. He correctly identifies the negative association that Kinnaman’s You Lost Me picked up. But he goes on to suggest that it’s not evangelicals in general that are encouraging the positions that drive folks away but the vocal minority the media likes to play on (the HP is notoriously guilty of this — they should read Skye’s article that they aggregated).  Skye observes that Meet the Press had Rachel Maddow and Ralph Reed in a DOMA discussion on Sunday — and surprise — they didn’t agree! It makes for conflict TV but misrepresents reality and slows collaboration.

Last month, Sarah Palin returned to her spot on Fox News. That night, John Oliver (filling in for Jon Stewart) fretted for a bit and then concluded “we could all just [expletive] ignore her”. I loved it. It was going to be my new mantra for all of the folks listed above who become divisive evangelical voices. Just Ignore Them. Hard work for sure — but way better for the blood pressure.

But today’s third story got me thinking that ignoring, while satisfying, was inadequate. In that piece, fellow Despised One Zach Hoag wrote about Christian Celebrity. He shares a picture of Joel Osteen praying with the producers of The Bible miniseries. He discusses the connection between Grand-Canyon-Wirewalking Nik Wallenda and Justin Bieber. And he shares an absolutely frightening vido clip advertising a reality series about LA prosperity preachers (scarier than zombie movies!).

I realized that ignoring the celebrity wasn’t enough. So I spent time thinking about how to co-opt the media fascination.

I’ve decided that we need a reality show based on the Old Testament prophet Hosea. We’d take some nice evangelical pastor, freshly out of Christian college and seminary, and have him start a nice little church. Then he’d marry a drug addicted, undereducated, flamboyant, abrasive, streetwalker. I see the concept as a Ryan Gossling type as the pastor and Snookie’s less stable little sister as the wife. Each week we’d tune in to see what would happen. Could he change her ways? No, she’s letting him down again. Having children with another guy. But somehow, our pastor keeps loving. He forgives and shows what it means to stand in as God’s agent for compassion and justice. He’d explain his longsuffering attitude and his commitment to Christ. They wouldn’t have money. Lindsey Lohan wouldn’t drop by. Just neighborhood folks and family members who keep telling him to dump the wife but he remains faithful in taking her back. Viewers would wonder why he keeps letting her come home. We could have them phone in votes on what he should do like American Idol or Do You Think You Can Dance?. But regardless of the vote, he’d take her back. And he’d explain that he’s doing so because that’s what God does with us.  This is the Good News.

Maybe then we’d get to know the evangelicals that Tom, Skye, and Zach want us to pay attention to.

“I believe that children are our future…”

So sang Whitney Houston in 1986. The song, “The Greatest Love of All” is actually about self-actualization: Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

But I want to stay with the opening refrain. Not just that it is tautological — children will be future adults and the absence of any children means that the race has no future. But that we jump through hoops in social policy to ask “But what about the children?

Or sometimes we ask. About some children.

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision on the unconstitutionality of DOMA, many critics have suggested that we are no longer caring for the children. They point out that “research” shows that children are healthier when raised in homes with two parents: the biological mother and father.

There is good social science literature that supports such claims. A quick Google search led me to a nice summary article written last year. But that article, like most of the research on two-parent families, has nothing to do with same-sex marriage or adoption by gay couples or single adults. It contrasts intact families — that is, still in the initial marriage — with single parents, reconstituted families, or cohabiting parents. When we make that comparison, the two parent families provide better support.

There are economic factors in play here, of course. Not all two-parent intact families are equal. Some struggle financially, live in bad neighborhoods, and have limited opportunities for advancement. It stands to reason that families in those circumstances might not be as beneficial as a reconstituted family with more monetary resources.

There are historical factors in play here as well. Children in the first part of the 20th century were an important part of the labor force. Women were treated as an appendage of the husband (read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House) and were legally property. Men were distant and followed the prevailing thought that showing emotion wasn’t manly. The first time I saw Rachel Held Evans was a video of a presentation she’d made a Fuller Seminary as her Year of Biblical Womanhood was coming out. It was clear that the “Biblical version of family” had far more to do with June Cleaver and Margaret Anderson — Father Knows Best — than timeless traditions. (These also reinforced the economic lessons — the Cleavers and Andersons were homes of professionals that quickly became normative within society).

There are also psychological limitations. I’ve been reading the late Brennan Manning’s memoir. It wasn’t a happy home. His mother was impossible to please and his father was distant. In other families, you could have a father who was overly controlling (or, heaven forbid, abusive) and withheld love to maintain the control over the household. I’ve had far too many conversations with  young evangelicals to know that there are a lot of stories out there just like what I’ve suggested.

So here’s what I think we’re really saying. It’s best for children to grow up in middle-class, emotionally stable, affirming homes with parents who are loving and psychologically healthy. Start switching out those variables and you get different outcomes.

What does this have to do with children growing up in same-sex households? First, it’s too soon to tell. Recent research, even the controversial stuff that came out last year, doesn’t disentangle the same-sex relationship from any social stigma that might have attached. Furthermore, we’d really need to be able to disentangle the various dynamics described above.

There’s reason to suspect that Modern Family’s Cameron and Mitchell provide at least the same level of support as the Cleavers. On the other hand, Jay Pritchard’s first show, Married with Children was as dysfunctional as they come (which was the joke). Roseanne and Dan Conner fell somewhere in the middle.

One more thing. Children are resilient. While the advantages of “growing up Cleaver” are many, there are also millions of stories of children growing up in homes without those advantages. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, LeBron James. And those are just some famous examples.

The number of children growing up in poverty line single-parent households continues to grow. That is a real concern and we need to find ways of guaranteeing those children a future as well.

But simply wishing they were all like the Cleavers isn’t the point. And suggesting that because we aren’t celebrating the Cleavers that society is doomed is not just short-sighted — it’s sociological cherry-picking.

The Optimism of Careful Conversation

Tomorrow’s sociological theory class is about Jurgen Habermas.

How’s that for a conversation starter? Actually, reading up on Habermas helped me make some connections with practices we need in the church, our colleges, and our politics. It came at a good time when I was dealing with high degrees of frustration about communication.

Yesterday former ambassador, presidential candidate, and conservative pundit Alan Keyes spoke on Spring Arbor’s campus. I didn’t go to the lunch (it cost money) but I did attend the open discussion in the afternoon. We had a couple of interactions that I’ve written about on Facebook. I want to be clear — I have no objection to having conservative speakers on our campus. Both Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo did chapel this spring and were well received.

What troubled me about Ambassador Keyes was the way he made his arguments. Not just loud and ideologically driven, they actually made it hard to follow the argument due to the sheer number of loosely connected ideas. On many occasions, I felt that it would be good to hit the “pause and rewind” button to review the logical connection that was being made. Because many in the crowd liked his conclusions, it seemed the way he got there was less important.

The same thing happens to some liberal pundits. They are so intent on making their derisive points about conservatives that they don’t make good argument.

It happens in churches. Thanks to a tweet from Rachel Held Evans today, I learned of this story of Tim Keller’s speech at the Gospel Coalition. According to the author (and commenters who were there), Keller suggested that one of the major obstacles to true revival was related to young people having premarital sex. I’m not advocating for premarital sex, but the issues of today’s culture cannot be handled in such a reductionistic fashion. There are a host of issues related to the authentic questions young evangelicals are asking. Sex is a minor one. As Jamie the Very Worst Missionary wrote, sex is a big deal but not the biggest deal. I’m reminded of the argument Putnam and Campbell made in American Grace: that the rise of evangelicalism was in part a push back against sexual freedom of the 1960s. It proved not to be enough of an argument over the long run.

Politicians’ “discourse” seems intent on stating their preferred positions (especially those favored by the gerrymandered constituency). Politicians and pundits caricature the other side, distort their positions, and make speeches in front of empty house chambers in order to cut YouTube videos.

Which brings me back to Habermas. His project in the latter part of the last century involved the connections between quality communication and civil society. He makes some remarkable claims. First, he suggests that there is a form of Objective Truth and that we can attend to a reality not dependent upon our personal opinions. Second, he affirms the possibility of intersubjectivity — that we can understand another’s position even if we disagree with it. Third, our conversation must avoid both coercion and ideology. Finally, by practicing careful conversation that attends to the other and respects the value of their position, we begin to weave together a civil society.

I’m reminded of a book I read long ago by defense attorney Jerry Spence. It was called How to Argue and Win Every Time. It was a little slight of hand: he really suggested that if you made your argument so carefully that the other fully understood, that constituted a win. I still find it helpful.

I don’t know if Spence read Habermas, but I like the continuity. We must learn to speak in ways that carefully engage the other’s legitimate position, examine complexity in place of shibboleths, and think about how our argument will be heard. These are important liberal arts skills directly related to critical thinking.

Our colleges do best when we figure out how to handle diverse positions. Our politics do best when they are addressing the complexity required to pursue the common welfare. Our churches do best when we can affirm God’s Story without minimizing the complexity of His work in the contemporary world.

I needed to hear Habermas today. He will keep my optimism alive for at least another week.

Five Rules for Educational Pundits

Last night I had a visceral reaction to David Brooks’ column in yesterday’s New York Times. I felt compelled to rant about it on Facebook. My reaction must have been even more extreme than I thought as it prompted my wife to make a FB post to make sure I was okay.

I’m attending the North Central Sociological Association meeting in Indianapolis with three of my students. The sessions have been generally good and the keynote speech by Sheldon Stryker of Indiana was very interesting.

When I got back to my room and checked on the day’s happenings, I saw Brook’s article, “The Practical University“. He begins by assuming that the point of education is preparing workers for the workforce. Beginning with this technical focus, he then begins to suggest that technical competence (being all that is necessary) can better be shared via technological media. Even the heart of the pedagogical process can be construed as a technical challenge — class discussion is about the skills required in group interaction (these will be valuable in future jobs).

Here’s my rant from Facebook: This is wrong on more levels that a FB post will allow me to unpack. First, the premise that education is about “technical knowledge” like biological recipes that nurses can use to deal with medical issues. The truth is that I don’t want nurses who know technical knowledge — I want them to think critically, deal with whole people, and know when innovation is lifesaving. Second, the notion of “boot camp for adulthood” is ridiculous on its face: made even more so by references to binge drinking, appropriate fornication, and “handing things in on time.” Third, seminars are not about seminar participation skills (which is why you’d videotape them and then discuss performance). They are the actual substance where learning occurs; learning for the students, learning for the professor, and learning by the entire community. When that happens and students practice engaging broader world in meaningful and life-changing ways, the university is as PRACTICAL as it can possibly be. Can we have non-educators please STOP pontificating on things of which they know very little?

Brooks’ article makes me reflect on how much of this tripe I’ve had to read over the last couple of years. In doing a very informal meta-analysis on these educational pundit articles (my definition is that they appear in popular print by people who aren’t professional educators), I think I found some patterns. If you want to become one of these pundits,  there are some general rules that can get you started:

1. Select a shaky metaphor and build your whole argument around it. Manufacturing metaphors are popular (importance of product). So are retail metaphors (students as customers). Whatever you do, don’t spend any time thinking about what most colleges or universities actually do. Don’t think about how you or your children feel about the college experience.

2. Pick an isolated fact and use it as an argument for how it changes everything. For example, have you noticed how today’s students like this thing called the internet? These kids are tweeting and texting and doing FB updates all the time. Surely they don’t want to sit in a classroom for 60 minutes and listen to a lecture when they’d rather watch YouTube videos! It is true that students are technologically savvy but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is their preferred mode of learning. Don’t consider the fact that we’re expecting people to use technology appropriately on the job without moving everyone to telecommuting.

3. Make sure to use an anachronistic understanding of higher education as your point of contrast. Ideally, you can pick on the worst teacher from your own college experience. Clearly, you argue, that folks like that guy can’t be the mode for future educational behavior. Don’t mention that he was abnormal even in the day. Whatever you do, don’t pay attention to people like Parker Palmer or read The Courage to Teach.

4. Pick one particular egregious example as an indictment of what’s wrong with the status quo. This is a strategy that has worked very well for people like David Horowitz. Write a book about Ward Churchill’s egregious behavior. Blog about the “stomp on Jesus” professor (which was a case study of this rule from the day the story broke). Identify that professor at the major research university who makes $170,000 but never teaches undergraduates. If these instances are generalized across academia, we clearly have major problems (of course, they are outliers and not at all representative of faculty in general).

5. Make sure you get the phrase “creative disruption” into your article. This allows you to argue that “this is a new world” and we have to leave our prior assumptions behind. Pay attention to MOOCs, online programs, the University of Phoenix, industrial training, and competency based learning. Don’t ask questions about how these innovations fit the incredible diversity of American higher education.

If you follow these five simple rules, you can join David Brooks and George Will to point out to all who will listen how higher education could improve if it weren’t for intractable faculty members. Since you are not connected to an institution or involved in teaching undergraduates over time, you will never have to put your ideas to the test.

Stryker’s keynote address was a reflection on what’s wrong with theory in modern sociology. He argued that there is a relationship between “frameworks” (broad theoretical perspectives) and “theories” which are empirical tests of predictable variable relationships. He said that we don’t focus on the connection between the two ideas because sociology has been overspecialized (he had a fascinating contrast between an early ASA meeting with 200 attendees who shared dinner and last summer’s ASA meeting with 4500 attendees who were divided across multiple hotel venues).

His critique of hyper-specialization makes me think of the pundit rules above. If my focus as a sociologist is within my own little research world, I’m not thinking cogently about the nature of modern higher education. More than that, I’m not explaining my work to the various publics with whom I engage.

My silence on these issues winds up empowering folks like Brooks and Will. Trustees, legislators, and parents are more likely to read a David Brooks column that they are to read this blog. That means I must write more and find more public venues to present the alternative view.

Maybe if I can do that more regularly, my reaction to silly pundit arguments can be less visceral. I think that would make my wife happy.