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A Column, A Debate, An Interview with Ken Follett and A Vox Blogoli on “Waiting for Superman”

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My Townhall.com column this week looks at the president’s collapsing communications strategy. This may come up in the debate I am having with Mike Gallagher in downtown Philadelphia tonight –info here— though Mike and I are going to spend the bulk of our time on where the GOP and the Tea Party are and should be headed.

Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com guest hosts for me today, and tomorrow I return with a long interview with novelist Ken Follett that focuses on his engrossing new novel, the first of a trilogy on the 20th century, Fall of Giants, which is riveting in its account of American, English, German and Russian families caught up in the collapse of the old order that began in the years prior to and during World War I. The conversation also looks backwards to Follett’s The Eye of the Needle, The Key To Rebecca, On the Wings of Eagles, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Don’t miss this interview if you enjoy Follett’s work or reading generally (the transcript will be posted here after the program airs), and be sure to read Fall of Giants.

Finally, for the first time in a couple of years I am running a Voix Blogoli. If a blogger sees the new documentary Waiting for Superman and posts on it, I will link that post here, and then select some of the bloggers for on-air interviews next week. As I write in the post below, I am interested in what the bloggers have to suggest about what ought to be done about the problems so movingly portrayed in the film. If you do post, send the link to me via hugh@hughhewitt.com with “Waiting for Superman” in the subject line. I will post the links here as they arrive.

Stories/posts on Waiting for Superman:

Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker.

Jabcat provides dueling reviews.

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“Waiting for Superman,” Waiting For The Left, and Waiting for Bloggers, and Remembering KJ Bentley

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Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman
debuts this weekend, and it is already attracting a great deal of very deserved attention. I have devoted all of one and part of a second program to the issues raised by the film already, and urge every conservative in the country to see it and take a liberal friend with you. Take a teacher as well.

As Jonathan Alter says in the movie, it is necessary to hold two propositions in your head: Most teachers are great, wonderful national assets, and teachers’ unions are a scourge on the land. The unions have so wrapped the system in bureaucratic malaise that genuine reform seems almost impossible, even as every year another cohort of functionally illiterate students “graduate” from horrible schools in completely dysfunctional school systems. Many on the left simply throw up their hands and walk away, quite willing to accept donations from the NEA to Democratic pols in exchange for acquiescence int he collapse of urban education.

Two of the very best MSMers should be read in conjunction with the film’s release.

I have often had Jay Mathews of the Washington Post on the program, and his Work Hard Be Nice is the first book you should read on the subject of school reform. Mathews is also featured in the film. No one should have an opinion on charter schools until they read Work Hard Be Nice. It is like a pundit holding forth on al Qaeda who hasn’t read Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower. Some conversations are so important that there ought to be an admission ticket required at the door, in this case a serious read of a very good book.

Then there is Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, Nicholas Lemann, among the most readable and rightly influential writers from the left in the land. Lemann essays on Waiting for Superman in this week’s New Yorker, and it leaves me very disappointed, not because Lemann is wrong or misleading, but because he is palpably weary of the subject.

Lemann wants everyone to recognize the great things American education has accomplished, and it has. But his praise for the past slides into complacency at the end, when he writes:

In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are-like subpar schools for poor and minority children-and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that.

In fact Waiting for Superman is very focused, and the Lemann piece’s unfortunate and perhaps unintended suggestion that it isn’t may persuade people that the documentary is a jeremiad and not the scalpel that it truly is.

Waiting for Superman is very much about lousy teachers –mostly in poor school districts, but throughout public education– who are protected by tenure and the unions from dismissal. The central problem is what to do about those teachers –how to get rid of them in short. The film’s sequences on the Dance of the Lemons and the rubber room communicate this central problem very effectively. It cannot be missed. There are plenty of other problems, but none of them matter as much as clearing the system of the soul-destroying, education-retarding bad teachers.

This is the central dilemma, and men and women of the left should weigh in on that particular point. My suggestion is that a lot of the money going into school reform would be better spent coaxing the lemons into retirement. Just buy them out and send them away, but clear the system of their deadening influence and malignant effect on other teachers and of course on their students.

Now a request for bloggers. If you see the film and write about it, send me a link to your post via hugh@hughhewitt.com . Please put “Waiting for Superman” in the subject line. I would like to link them all and feature on-air conversations with the bloggers who come up with the best suggestions for how to deal with the problems so powerfully portrayed on the screen.

Every year another many tens of thousands of kids drop out of schools that could not hold their interest. Many other tens of thousands graduate but with education levels far below the minimum necessary to prosper in our society. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is astonishing that this country just spent $850 billion dollars and has nothing to show for it when it comes to public education reform or excellence. That has to be because most people have given up, have grown weary of the problem.

Except of course the teachers themselves –they good ones and the very, very good ones. They would love nothing more than to be supported in their efforts to educate, and that includes in the removal of the incompetent among them.

I am especially mindful of the excellence in the teaching profession because an acquaintance of mine, KJ Bentley, died suddenly in his classroom this week. KJ was a gifted, indeed an extraordinary teacher and coach that any school would have loved to have had on its campus. He is part of a teaching family –both parents teach, his wife teaches, his daughters teach. He was only 46 and his memorial service Friday will be full of grieving friends, colleagues and especially students past and present. KJ is very much an example of what every student in America deserves, and the idea that we should move slowly to figure out how to provide more KJs to especially the urban poor is not only wrong but incredibly callous. You cannot “make up” for years lost in the classroom of a lousy teacher. The left knows that, and should be demanding action to allow for the flushing of the lousy and the hiring of the promising.

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A New York State of Mind

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The New York Times notes that Andrew Cuomo isn’t looking quite so invulnerable any more, and Powerline’s Scott Johnson reviews the data on the Senate race which has Democrats worrying over appointed Senator Gillibrand.

Guy Benson adds even more detail at The Tipsheet.

Just add money, as the old saying goes. The ebullient Joe DioGuardi was a guest on my show last week and perhaps Duane can post the audio of that conversation here, and my guest host today, Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey may want to call some attention to the New York Republicans shaking up the Empire State, where voters seem to know they are as screwed economically as the rest of the country. Andrew Cuomo’s going to lead them? Kirsten Gillibrand represents them?

You can contribute to DioGuardi here.

If this news from New York isn’t enough to make you smile, see Instapundit’s bulletins on Barney Frank’s race in Massachusetts. Maybe word of the Dodd-Frank Bubble behind all the misery has penetrated even the Bay State’s consciousness.

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How The Left Operates

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Be sure to read this piece on how big money from the far left flooded the Colorado GOP primary to saddle the party with Dan Maes as its governor candidate. The left’s money combined with Tom Tancredo’s hyper-ego to defeat Scott McInnis and virtually give the state to Denver’s Democratic mayor.

That which gets rewarded gets repeated, and the left will certainly try to play in the GOP primaries in early 2012 to set up whomever they consider to be the weakest GOP nominee as Barack Obama’s opponent. The biggest failure of Michael Steele’s tenure as GOP chair has been the inability of the party to take even minor steps to protect its caucus and primary process from manipulation by dedicated Obamians with a desire to stop strong GOP candidates and help weak ones.

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