This is essentially a transcript (is transcript the right word?) of a Facebook debate that I had this evening.
There are a few reasons why I want to post these facebook debates here on Dailykos. One is for preservation purposes, as facebook often makes it difficult to find these posts the way that it is structured. Another reason is to get feedback from outside, somewhat unbiased viewers, to get an idea of how well my rhetoric might be received. Another reason is because I think there are Dailykosers like myself who are interested in these types of interactions, perhaps as motivation to engage in these debates themselves. However, trying to be declared the winner of these arguments is not one of the reasons. I just happen to value the opinions of Dailykosers, at least to the same extent of others within my extended circle of friends. Lastly, I am damn sure the type of people I debate on facebook do not normally read Dailykos, unless they are diaries to which I link, of course.
This is the second facebook discussion that I have shared here on Dailykos, and the first time I explained my motivations for engaging in these types of debates over facebook.
I feel they serve 3 purposes: One, I and anyone else looking at the conversation get an idea of both sides of the argument, what tactics both sides rely on, and everyone who is afraid to take sides is able to form opinions based on the people actually willing to voice theirs. Two, it is a controlled way to challenging the other side, where people you're friends with on facebook are more likely to discuss the debate more rationally, due to the courtesy we tend to show people we are at least acquainted with, and so the responses will likely be more measured than the responses when engaging in a more random and anonymous forum. And finally, I treat them as practice for dealing with these arguments in real life. Winning internet arguments is ultimately not the end game, the more valuable discussions are out between people face to face where neither side is relying on the facade of internet anonymity, and like any other skillful endeavor, handling these arguments require practice. I get an idea of what types of rhetoric I am likely to encounter, form counter-arguments, and assess how convincing they sound.The objective ultimately is not to sway the other side or win internet points or even sway an otherwise impartial observer, but to sharpen my debate skills for when they might someday be needed in meatspace.
It began with Friend's post:
Just saw a trailer for Won't Back Down - some movie about a poor mother who's pissed at the school system because her "kid can't read". I haven't watched the film, but I'm already angered by the trailer. I could read in Kindergarten. You know why? It wasn't because I was from an affluent family and my Kindergarten teacher was 'extra gooder' at teaching 5-year-olds. It's because my lower-middle class parents taught me BEFORE I got to Kindergarten. Since when did a child's education completely get handed over to the school system? Since when was it not a parent's concern whether their kid knows colors and ABC's and numbers and the list of 348 words William Spaulding thought every first grader should know (which was the basis of Seuss's The Cat in the Hat)? WTF 'Merica, stop expecting a dysfunctional government to do everything for you -- Especially concerning that which should be the absolute most precious thing in your life. So disgusted. Ugh.I haven't seen the movie myself, but I mostly took offense at how judgmental this post came off. The following are the comments, with irrelevant comments omitted.
Me: What if the parents were never taught how to read? What if the parents are working from the time the child wakes up until the time the child goes to bed? What if the parents are alcoholics or drug addicts? What if the child is one of the 16 million children in the US who live in a household that can't even afford basic nutrition? What if one parent is in jail? What if there's only one parent, period?
Maybe these aren't the types of issues that most children have to deal with. But for some children, these are.
If we expect households in this country to value the education of their children as a basic necessity, should we not also expect it out of our own government?
Me: Of course I am not saying that the education system should be held 100% responsible if a child does not know how to read. But I do think that if a child is coming from a disadvantaged background, the education system, as an extension of society, should step up to fill the gap in what the child is lacking in educational support. After all, a child who cannot read is not the only one who suffers; society suffers as well.
Friend: Well, first of all, this doesn't seem to be a movie about an alcoholic, drug addict mother who can't read... it's one who is literate enough to create demonstration signs and articulate enough to lead rallies. Yeah, those situations you mention suck. A lot of situations suck. The point I'm making is that Households ARE NOT valuing the education of their children. THEY ARE NOT. So you're sentence about expecting the same from government is completely invalid. If you have time to fuck, you should have 15 minutes a day or a week, even to ask your kid what color something is. There needs to be a value placed on education by parents -- first so that kids are being taught things at home, and later, when they are older, so that they will value education when they are more in charge of their own successes or failures. And if I didn't know how the fuck to read and I had a kid, I WOULD FIND SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THEIR ABC's and ask them to spend an hour a week teaching me and my kid in exchange for bartering something, because I would hopefully love my child and want to give them a good foundation by whatever means necessary.
Me: Friend, let's take your argument to the opposite end of the logical spectrum.
Let's say a child belongs to an affluent family. The parents themselves spend absolutely no time interacting with the child and influencing their child's education. In fact, they do not feel the need to. Instead, they send their child to an expensive private school. They hire tutors and counselors and advisors, and all of these other people provide the child's entire education.
You could argue that the parents are still valuing education by providing all these educators to their child, but since they are not taking the time out of their own lives to educate the child themselves, then they are doing the same thing that you are condemning the poor parent for doing by blaming the school system for their child's lack of education.
Would you still say that the parents are failing their child by not directly educating them? Or does the fact that the child is receiving an education alone make the difference? Because the latter would demonstrate that you hold parents without any such advantages to a double standard, and the former would be just as much a condemnation that wealthy parents also do not value education, since they are not themselves providing it.
Friend: Well, in spite of the fact that odds are, the kid is probably gonna end up to be a dysfunctional asshole (see the documentary Born Rich). At the end of the day, rich parents' Johnny still knows how to read. But this isn't about rich parents' Johnny. We're talking about public school system users that 100% relinquish educational responsibility to the government. If your kid doesn't know the alphabet by the time he's in 3rd grade, and neither you nor he has a severe mental disability, you are an asshole. Period. The fact that that isn't common knowledge is the biggest root problem.
Me: Well you just said that at end of the day, as long as Johnny can read, what does it matter if it came from their parents, or from a 100k private education, or from the public school system? Out of those three, why should only public education be absolved from ensuring the child knows how to read? If anything, only public education exists solely for that reason.
Friend: If your kid doesn't know the alphabet by the time he's in 3rd grade, and neither you nor he has a severe mental disability, you are an asshole. Period.
Me: You are saying that if a child does not know how to read, and that the parent does know how to read, then the parent is solely responsible, and has no right to demand that the public school system teach the child how to read.
By that logic, public schools should not teach children how to read, except for extenuating circumstances in which nobody within the child's life can teach them. Because it is the parents' responsibility, after all.
By that logic, public schools have no obligation to teach children anything that you might consider a basic educational necessity that their parents are capable of teaching them.
Is that what you mean? Public schools should not be obligated to teach children basic educational necessities? Then what is the purpose of public education to you?
Friend: I said alphabet. There are kids in 3rd grade that do not know the alphabet. If your kid doesn't know the alphabet by the time he's in 3rd grade, and neither you nor he has a severe mental disability, you are an asshole. Period.
Me: ok? Replace every place I said "how to read" with "the alphabet." It is still the same logical argument.
Me: 3rd grader: I don't know the alphabet.
In fact, grade doesn't matter.
12th grader: I don't know the alphabet.
Teacher: Do your parents know the alphabet?
12th grader: Yes.
Teacher A: Then your parents should teach you the alphabet. I am not going to teach that to you.
Teacher B: Then I will teach you the alphabet. I am a teacher, after all.
Which teacher would you rather have teaching your children? (Assume this is not your child)
Friend: No, a kid should be learning those things before they go to school in one or two of the thousands of hours that someone somewhere has contact with them . Learning should not START whenever they are sent to public school. It is absolutely ridiculous that a kid wouldn't be taught the alphabet or about colors or numbers until they get to public school. And the fact that that is not commonly known to be ridiculous is the problem.
Friend: You think they don't try, Pierre? They only have a few hours a day, 5 days a week with them with time divided between maybe a dozen rowdy kids in city schools. It's not enough. You need parents that give a shit, too. And if you're in 3rd grade, and your parents don't care that you don't know the alphabet, kiddo, your parents are assholes.
Friend: If your kid doesn't know the alphabet by the time he's in 3rd grade, and neither you nor he has a severe mental disability, you are an asshole. Period. And that's it.
Me: Well you know, this isn't a perfect world, so there are going to be children who do not know the alphabet by the third grade. Is it enough to simply blame and hold the parents responsible? If knowing the alphabet is as vital as you claim it to be, should we not as a society make sure the child learns it even if it is the parents' responsibility? Or is it better to let the child continue not knowing the alphabet?
Friend: This whole movement that's started of getting pissed at the schools and teachers for not being superhuman only aggravates the problem by reinforcing the idea that the government is 100% responsible for the education and welfare of your kids. I'd rather wish they started using $ for extra programs to bitch slap parents and letting them know they need to give a fuck when their kids are in 3rd grade and don't know the alphabet.
Friend: This isn't one or two kids who are 8 years old in the school and don't know their colors or how to count to 10 or their ABC's. It's A LARGE proportion of kids whose parents don't care about their education at all. I've met some of those kids. It's absolutely horrifying. The ideas about who is ultimately responsible needs to change. Change that, and the biggest problems are gone. Change that, and then talk to me about upgrading schools. But don't dump more money and more resources and more failing programs into a system where parents don't give a shit. Parents need to give a shit. That should be priority #1. It should be a commonly held belief that if you're in 3rd grade, and your parents don't care that you don't know the alphabet, your parents are assholes.
Friend: And by the way, these aren't the kids of illiterate parents... so just stop bringing that up.
Me: Look, I have never at any point denied that parents who do not ensure that their children know the alphabet by the 3rd grade are assholes.
You say that ultimately the child should know the alphabet by the third grade should be the priority. But you also say that blaming and holding the parents responsible for teaching their children the alphabet is also a priority.
But then what makes you think the child will learn the alphabet if it is left solely to the parents who let them get to the third grade without knowing the alphabet in the first place? What's more important, that the parents learn responsibility, or that the child learns the alphabet? Which is the more basic priority?
It's more important to me that the child learns the alphabet, and since the parents are not stepping up, the public school system should.
Basically, I think it is more costly to society to have a child who does not know the alphabet than to have parents who do not teach their children the alphabet. I think society is better served ensuring the child learns the alphabet than is served by holding the parents responsible. You are basically saying the opposite. Correct?
Finally, the ultimate solution to this is better funded public schools. Shouldn't that be your argument?
Me: I did stop bringing that up illiterate parents after the first comment.
Friend: oh good, times 2! The public opinion of who is ultimately responsible needs to change. It is not a commonly held belief that you are an asshole if your kid doesn't know the alphabet by 3rd grade. It IS a commonly held belief that the school system is ultimately responsible and to blame in this case. This was not always so. This was not so when my parents showed me colors and numbers and told me what they were when they were around me. If I were in 3rd grade and didn't know the alphabet, my parents' friends would say, "what the fuck is wrong with you? Why doesn't your kid know the alphabet? You're assholes!!" So, no, my argument is not that schools need more money. If parents gave a shit, you could do more with an electricity-less brick shit house in the woods with a chalk board and a fist full of chalk.
Me: I don't know that the perception has changed as much as you have perceived it to change. It could be that parents are just as ambivalent twenty years ago as they are now. What statistics do you have that the public opinion has changed like that? It seems to be a straw man argument.
Friend: I've gathered secondary empirical evidence. All you gotta do is find yourself some recently-retired city school teachers who worked a span of decades and you can have your own! I might even be able to get you started, if Other Friend cares to put her 2 cents in.
Me: All you would get is anecdote, which is not empirical evidence.
Me: Besides, I think city school teachers would be on the side of better-funded schools.
Friend: Oh, so first her opinion doesn't matter, unless it's on your side?? Hahaha..
Friend: I guess there's just no point in continuing this discussion.
Me: I think it's been very thoughtful and constructive.
Me: I did not say that her opinion and the opinions of those like her do not matter. I just take umbrage with calling it empirical evidence. As trained scientists and engineers, we should know the difference between empirical evidence and anecdote.
Me: Instead of "I think city school teachers" I should have said "I would think."
Me: A parent has a 3rd grade child who does not know the alphabet.
Instead of taking responsibility, the parent blames the school and demands that it makes serious changes.
In your view, the parent should not have this privilege, based on the fact that they should be the one responsible for the 3rd grader knowing the alphabet, and that it is not the school's responsibility to teach such rudimentary lessons. In fact, it should be the parent who is punished.
As a society, we should not tolerate parents like this. We should invest money and resources into changing these parents' behaviors so that they take more responsibility in teaching their children these basics. The implication is that children who don't know the alphabet by the third grade is simply a symptom of this larger problem of irresponsible parents, and the best way to eliminate the symptom is to eliminate the problem.
This is what I gather your position to be.
Here is where I disagree with your argument.
You argue that the problem is that parents do not sufficiently value education. Making sure their child knows the alphabet by the 3rd grade should be a basic necessity to them.
At the same time, you argue that parents should be punished, or more generally, money and resource should go toward making sure parents understand the value of education. In reality, this ultimately means that money and resources do not go toward ensuring the child learns the basic necessary education.
So you are sending a mixed message. Parents should value basic education, but basic education is not as valuable as parents knowing that basic education is valuable.
If basic education is truly as valuable as you argue it to be, then ultimately, money and resources should be spent on ensuring the child knows the alphabet. If they are not going to learn it from their parents, then they should learn it somehow, and public education is the logical alternative.
So this is where our views diverge. If you want parents to value education as a basic necessity, then we as a society must treat it as such. In this instance, educating a child should come before educating the parents. Ultimately, the children of today become the parents of tomorrow, so we should teach them that society values their education above all else.
Me: Look at what we do now with NCLB and Race To The Top: schools with more failing kids get less money. In other words, we as a society are in fact holding schools 100% responsible for the performance of our children.
Isn't that the antithesis of your argument?
If we truly want to send the message that education is a basic necessity, that parents should value their children's educations, shouldn't we be investing the most in the schools with the most failing children?
End of Thread as of an hour ago
I'm sure there are readers here who agree more with my Friend than myself. What other points would you add? Which points were made that you found the most compelling?
I realize trying to appeal logically to people like Friend can be fairly problematic, but I think it is the most direct way to attack the flaws in their arguments.
I also feel my inability to immediately address the whole "Parents who don't teach their third grade children the alphabet are assholes" seems to have hampered the overall discussion. Are there any thoughts on that?
Overall, though, I am glad I put these counter arguments out there. The original post got 17 likes, which does not endear me much to this friend's circle, but I suppose that is the risk when venturing outside of my own facebook wall, which I only do sparingly. I might have one less fb friend after this one, which only happens rarely but still hurts. I like to think I can have heated debates with people I consider friends without them changing their opinions of me as a person, but perhaps that is too idealistic.