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I have not written a diary for a while so bear with me if my style is a bit rusty.  I was wasting time on the Internet when I should have been getting other things done and I came across this conservative website called "The Daily Caller,"  I think it was founded by Fox News commentator, bow-tie aficionado, and all-round pissant Tucker Carlson.  I noticed that the most popular "article" on the website right now is this: "Obama backs race-based school discipline policies."  

I realized that this is the type of article I get all of the time from conservative relatives that just don't realize that a PhD student in International Relations with a decidedly post-Marxist/critical bent is probably not going to take this crap seriously.  But really, why do people take this crap seriously?  So I investigated.

You read the headline and it does sound sinister right?  I mean, you're going to separate out all the kids and assign disciplinary policies based on race?  If it were true, I would certainly not support this.  So how to they get people to think it is true?  (Beyond the obvious factor that they are already predisposed to believe negative things about the president or just aren't too bright).  So I read on:

President Barack Obama is backing a controversial campaign by progressives to regulate schools’ disciplinary actions so that members of major racial and ethnic groups are penalized at equal rates, regardless of individuals’ behavior
Some strong claims here.  You get the sense that the government is going to enact some sort of disciplinary quota system in schools put in place by progressive bureaucrats at the Department of Education.  The article goes on to quote someone from the"Competitive Enterprise Institute."  The name sounds like a bland research center but it is a libertarian/conservative organization specializing in climate change denial.  Then a representative from the "Center for Equal Opportunity" was quoted arguing that black kids are punished more because they commit more crimes and misbehave more at school.  Apparently the fact that their parents aren't married is the single cause for this.  The Center for Equal Opportunity bills itself as "the nation's only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity."  The staff is pretty monochromatic based on their website.

Later in the article we learn that what the president did do was establish an advisory commission to the study the issue of disciplinary disparity in schools that the article intimates will develop regulations based on a progressive proposal from Maryland.  Sounds like the Board of Education in Maryland cooked up some sort of quota system doesn't it?  However, if you look at the actual document that the BOE in Maryland produced, it's pretty reasonable: end zero tolerance, avoid draconian punishments for non-violent offenses, provide guidelines but don't micromanage school superintendents.  The main offense according to the article is this:

Therefore, we will propose a regulation that requires MSDE to develop an analysis to determine the impact of school discipline on minority students within each school system. When MSDE determines that a disproportionate impact exists, our regulation will require that the school system present to this Board a plan designed to reduce the disproportionate impact within one year and to eliminate that impact within three years.
The key issue that is elided here is the very specific legal term "disparate impact."  Disparate impact is basically unintentional racism/sexism/ablism etc. that leads to disparate outcomes for different groups.  It is not a quota system and it does not mean all disparities are levelled, it simply means that disparities are monitored statistically and if there is evidence that punishment is meted out more harshly and frequently than a white student would get for the same offense, such disparities should be eliminated. Any lawyer would be able to tell you that it takes quite a lot to prove a disparate impact and it is a far weaker standard than the Daily Caller article suggests.

The article then goes on to take a quote from Eric Holder that is supposedly in support of "race-based discipline policies."

Compounding this problem, we’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled.

A study conducted in Texas just last year found that minority and special needs children who caused what are termed “emotional disturbances” were more likely than white students to be disciplined.   In fact, 83 per cent of African American male students and 74 per cent of Hispanic male students ended up in trouble and suspended for some period of time.   Among all students suspensions averaged about two days per offense.   Minority students facing discipline for the first time tended to be given harsher out of school suspensions, rather than in school suspensions, more often than their white counterparts.   Tellingly, 97 per cent of all suspensions were discretionary and reflected the administrator’s discipline philosophy as much as the student’s behavior.  

This is, quite simply, unacceptable


The bold and italicized parts are edited out of the speech in the article.  The author, Neil Munro, then argues that Holder "provided no evidence" for his assertions and didn't mention any individual that was singled out for harsh punishment (anecdotes apparently superior to statistical data)  Of course, the evidence that was presented was edited out.

The article manages to hit all of the conservative tropes designed to get heads nodding: racial quotas, government regulation, disintegrating families as the cause of all social ills, increased bureaucratic power over state and local governments, greedy trial lawyers, activist judges, (intimated) black democrats in Maryland and the "D.C. area" implementing laws that supposedly penalize whites.  It's all there and more, with a heaping dose of white resentment.

It wasn't hard to deconstruct the whole thing and debunk it, but it did require a set of critical thinking skills that are increasingly not valued in public education, and a lot of time.  These people don't link to any of the stuff they cite so I had to search for Holder's speech, find out who these innocuous sounding think tanks were and what their game was, search for the Maryland School Board's policy, research what exactly "disparate impact" means and understand the legalese.  Nobody who is sympathetic to this stuff is going to take the time to do that.  However, if you don't take the time to debunk it all, the way they talk about these issues and the way they present the president would make a person incredulous and maybe even angry.  Of course this is by design.  But if nobody actually does the research, they'll buy it....easily.  This seems to be the general template of conserva-prop, quote out of context, reference partisan sources that seem objective, replace actual evidence with tropes designed to elicit an emotional (read anger) response.  In this way, the right-wing media echo-chamber continually reinforces and legitimizes the viewpoints of conservatives and insulates those views from criticism by passing off flimsy or outright bogus evidence as fact.  This is why I can't have a reasonable political conversation with really any of my conservative friends or relatives, if their whole cognitive space is filled with this type of thing.

Originally posted to Hyakuban on Tue Aug 06, 2013 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging and Community Spotlight.

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