Perception Is Reality

A hypothesis. The 2020 Presidential election isn’t going to be decided on policy differences. As always, both candidates will make lots of promises, some partly fleshed out, others not. It isn’t even going to be decided on “kitchen table economics”, or tax proposals, or other manifestos for further weakening or strengthening our frayed social safety net.

It’s going to be decided on emotions, how the candidates make people feel about themselves, even more than how they feel about the country.

Remember Bruni’s description of how Trump makes his followers feel like victims:

“He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.”

The Demo candidate should rebut Trump victimization head on, repeatedly saying, “We are not victims. Your neighbors and you control your destiny. Together we can strengthen labor unions, create jobs that pay a livable wage, preserve our natural environment, and take care of the most vulnerable among us. Immigrants and foreigners are not our foes, our only foe is unfounded fear of the other.”

Trump also plays brilliantly on his followers sense that they’re being pushed around by the mainstream media, “coastal elites”, and anti-religious liberals whose common thread is a sense of superiority.

That’s why television segments like this (start at 2:33) are a serious problem for anyone who wants to defeat Trump in November. Like Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorable” slur, the single worst thing anyone who wants to defeat Trump can do is laugh at people susceptible to his victimization bullshit because it plays right into their belief that liberals are arrogant; that Democrats, whether they know it or not, whether they accept responsibility for it or not, can be counted on to convey a sense of superiority.

The larger context of this clip, Pompeo’s unconscionable treatment of a female reporter doesn’t matter. The fact that geography is not Trump’s strong suit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how their laughing makes those susceptible to his victimization push feel because perception is reality.

For Democrats to win, they can’t let their animus for the Trump Administration spill over into disrespect for the dignity of moderates, independents, and “still undecideds” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere.

The Tilt Left

Young voters keep moving to the left on social issues, Republicans included.

“’This should be an alert to the Republican Party as they think about generational replacement,’ said Elizabeth Bennion, a professor of political science at Indiana University South Bend.

Each succeeding generation of Americans tends to be more progressive than those that came before, Ms. Bennion noted, a trend that potentially poses a long-term threat to the Republican Party’s power.”

One caveat. That more young people vote.

Give Poor Students Computers and Watch Nothing Happen

What happened when researchers gave computers to randomly selected California schoolkids whose families had no computer at home? In short, nothing.

Matthew Yglesias reports:

. . . kids reported an almost 50 percent increase in time spent using a computer, with the time divided between doing homework, playing games, and social network. But there was no improvement in academic achievement or attendance or anything else. There wasn’t even an improvement in computer skills. At the same time, there was no negative impact either. The access to extra computer games didn’t reduce total time spent on homework or lead to any declines in anything. They broke it down by a few demographic subgroups and didn’t find anything there either. It’s just a huge nada. Nothing happening.

More Yglesias:

We know that kids from higher-income households do much better in school than poor kids. But that of course raises the question of why that is exactly or what one might do about it. . . If access to home computers was associated with improved school performance, that would be strong evidence that simply fighting poverty with money could be highly effective education policy. The null finding tends to suggest otherwise, that the ways in which high-income families help their kids in school don’t relate to durable goods purchases and may be things like social capital or direct parental involvement in the instructional process that—unlike computers—can’t be purchased on the open market.

Forget the “may be”. That is how high-income families help their kids in school. We also know kindergartners begin school with serious differences in vocabulary based upon their parents’ socio-economic status. Some kids luck out with two parents, one who might stay at home with them. When they’re not napping, they’re talking. Less television, more talking, much more extensive vocabulary. Think of that above-average age 5 vocabulary as kindling in the fireplace of formal schooling.

“Direct parental involvement in the instructional process” takes many forms. When I went to my youngest daughter’s first field trip when she was five, at a local farm, there were 24 pipsqueaks and 36 parents. We had the kindergartners and animals outnumbered. High-income parents volunteer in their children’s primary schools, they regularly meet with their teachers, they read to their children at night, they (especially grandparents) buy them books by the bushel, they organize school fundraisers, they make sure their school is well supplied, they monitor homework, and they hire tutors, counselors, and related specialists when something is amiss. Most recipients of that type of care think, “I don’t want to let them down.” Think of that resolve as the matches in the fireplace of formal schooling.

Social capital is the network of already well educated people—both within and outside one’s family—who collectively create positive momentum in well-to-do families. Often, it’s subtle, nuanced, and indirect. College-related stories are told at dinner, a new job or promotion is discussed, older siblings succeed. Achievement is assumed. At other times, it’s anything but subtle and nuanced as when a family member or influential family friend asks acquaintances in high places to grant an interview, internship, or job.

Given this dilemma, conservatives argue that spending more money on low-income students is pointless. Progressives draw a different conclusion. We gladly accept the Right’s premise that equal opportunity is essential, but we point out what they conveniently ignore. We can’t have equal opportunity writ large if young people don’t enjoy equal educational opportunity.

And since schools don’t have the wherewithal to level the pre-natal to before school playing field, or balance parent school involvement, or equalize social capital, it’s imperative that school’s compensate for societal inequalities that are not the fault of low-income students. If free computers aren’t that answer, what is? Some possibilities: smaller classes, the best teachers (who usually teach the best students); summer remediation programs; community-based internships and mentors; and longer school days/years.

All of those together won’t close the academic achievement gap. At best, they’ll partially reduce it.