Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eliminate Tenure For New York Times Columnists

Former restaurant critic Frank Bruni used his platform as a New York Times columnist today to attack teacher tenure. The whole thing was basically him just repeating stuff that some ex-TFA guy now administrator was saying. It was, I must say, rather lazy journalism in that respect. That seems kind of odd, considering that Bruni thinks that teachers are somehow not hired or retained for "talent" and are encouraged by tenure to be a bunch of lazy layabouts. Now I'm not going to directly refute his arguments right here, partly because they are effing weak, and partly because others have already done it so well.

No, instead I would like to deflate his assumption, oft repeated by anti-tenure ranters, that teaching is the only profession in the world where incompetent people keep their jobs. Here's what Bruni had to say: "There’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about."

So I guess other professionals, like say journalists, are totally accountable and always get fired for poor work, and are never allowed to coast on their past accomplishments. Does that sound like bullshit to you? It sure does to me. I figured I would turn the tables, and be an evaluator of the job performance of Bruni and his colleagues, assigning them grades with commentary.

Charles Blow: A
Blow has gone from a statistics-bound column to a more traditional style, and he writes with passion and intelligence. Unlike many other columnists, he is willing to talk insightfully about racism, poverty, parenthood, and rural life. His column is the only absolute must-read in the bunch.

Gail Collins: A-
Collins is by far the funniest of the columnists, and is often able to translate that wit into hard-nosed critique of Washington. However, she seems to be coasting recently, and has become more bemused than critical of the shenanigans of our political class. She never fails to make me laugh, which is why I always read her.

Timothy Egan: A-
A good writer who wrote a great popular history of the Dust Bowl, Egan often brings in interesting historical backing as well as knowledge gleaned from actually rubbing shoulders with and talking to regular people. He could be more consistent, but his better columns are really worth reading.

Roger Cohen: B
He writes solid and insightful stuff on world affairs. His grade is harmed by a tendency to engage in apologist behavior on behalf of Israel.

Paul Krugman: B
Krugman was once a must-read columnist full of wit and insight on numerous topics, but since the beginning of the recession he has been sounding the same note over and over again. Each of his columns is a repeated argument against austerity economics and for Keynesian stimulus. It is an important thing to be saying, but to properly fulfill his job he needs to be presenting new material.

Joe Nocera: B
Nocera has a maddening tendency to uncritically endorse education "reform" initiatives. However, his quest to call the NCAA to account for exploiting its players is very admirable, as are his columns about regulating the financial system. He's mediocre when talks about what he doesn't know, but great on the stuff that he does.

Frank Bruni: C
Former restaurant critic Bruni is alright with his slice of life columns, but when he writes about broader issues it can be a little embarrassing. His aforementioned piece on tenure just repeats talking points from corporate reformers. Anyone who has a platform like his should be expected to do a lot better.

Nicholas Kristof: C-
Kristof's column has become a regular soapbox for colonial white saviorism.

Ross Douthat: D
Douthat's columns are full of sophistry and scolding. He presumes to critique America's moral failings while supporting free market capitalism, a system whose only value is money. Avoids a failing grade by actually have an occasional original thought, such as his columns on classism in college.

Maureen Dowd: F
She has a tart pen but usually deploys it in a quest to be the queen bee mean girl of Washington. Anything she writes about Obama is meant to emasculate him, and she has a never-ending vendetta against Hilary Clinton. In the midst of the turmoil in Ferguson and Iraq, she still insisted on making an attack on Hillz her biggest priority.

Thomas Friedman: F
Friedman is heroin for middle-aged corporate drones who want to appear educated without actually being so. There is more cant and sophistry per column inch in his work than anything else published these days.

David Brooks: F
Brooks' columns are almost always based on some kind of false dichotomy he uses to oversimplify complex issues. He is a tireless purveyor of Conservatism Lite, completely unaware of the fact that he is a self-parody. If you printed his columns in the Onion, people would think they were a satire on neo-conservatives.

Overall, I would say that except for Krugman, Collins, Nocera, Cohen, Blow, and Egan there are literally hundreds of bloggers who could do just as good or better a job as the other columnists. I don't think the Times has a tenure policy, but it sure as hell isn't "talent" that's keeping these people in their jobs.


Anonymous said...

I'm always struck by how many people complaining about teacher tenure complain endlessly about the number of incompetent people at their non-school workplaces and how they never get fired.

Unknown said...

I'd give David Brooks and F- if that grade made sense.