Thursday, June 23, 2016

Intangible Greatness

You may have heard by now the satisfying news that the Supreme Court spanked Abbie Fisher in a decision that provides, as Salon put it, "A massive blow to mediocre white people coasting on their racial privilege." Fisher (and her lawyer, notorious affirmative action combatant Edward Blum) argued that as a mediocre white person, she should automatically get preference over a mediocre black person (I'm paraphrasing). Oh, and that the 14th Amendment should get lost.

The Supremes said not so much, and conservative Anthony Kennedy was the guy who helped them do it. You'll be reading about that decision all over the place-- but I want to focus on one excerpt from Kennedy's decision:

A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness. Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.

Emphasis mine. Damn straight, Justice Kennedy. And not just a university, but the individual human beings who make it up. In fact, all individual human beings. "I owe my success and my achievements in life, my whole rewarding existence, my greatness, to a set of qualities that are easily measured and quantified objectively," said nobody, ever. I am sure there will be many days to come on which I disagree with Justice Kennedy, but today is not that day.

Can we just plaster this up some place that it will be visible on the day that the court hears a case involving the use of narrow Big Standardized Tests of math and English to judge teachers, schools and students? Can we make a big meme and plaster it all around the intertoobz? Can we remind reformsters every chance we get about the intangible qualities that make for greatness, but evade objective measurement? And can I have a poster of this in my classroom, to remind myself and my students that greatness, achievement, happiness, and a rich and rewarding life are built out of qualities that defy measurement even as they are the foundation of every worthy and wonderful life that a human being has ever lived?


  1. Spanked?? What, you couldn't make your argument without a spot of good, old-fashioned sexism? I'm disgusted.

    1. I had no idea spanking was sexist. But I've been referring to broad range of people getting spanked over the years. Perhaps I've been doing it wrong.

    2. I had no idea spanking was sexist. But I've been referring to broad range of people getting spanked over the years. Perhaps I've been doing it wrong.

    3. You chose to sexualize this young woman for no reason whatsoever. It's perfectly fine to consider her lawsuit to be ridiculous and offensive. But it wouldn't hurt you to try to express your disagreement without slipping into the vocabulary of a pimply woman-hater from Reddit.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. (Typo) I sexualized nobody. If you believe that the word "spank" is sexual, that may say more about you than about me. Alternatively, since over time I have written about the GOP, a Success Academy male principal, the Philly School Commission, a female teacher in California, Corinthian College, and the state of Washington all being spanked, perhaps I am suffering from sort of serious sexual dysfunction. Or I just keep using "spanked" in its sense of "a mild and somewhat ineffective attempt to punish someone for wrongdoing that simultaneously tries to treat them as a child-like subordinate." Perhaps I'm influenced by a career in education where, years ago, spanking was still a thing. It may have been ineffective, painful and belittling, but I'm pretty sure it was never sexual.

    6. Many insist that the Confederate flag is not racist.

  2. Oh, and if you make a poster of this for your room, can you send me a copy for mine?

  3. Mr. Greene, what Clarissa was suggesting is that you wouldn't use "spanked" in speaking about a male plaintiff. No evidence that she's right, and it is a side issue that doesn't pertain to the case. In short, Clarissa is trying to hurt you using a standard "card."

    Funny, this is a standard conservative complaint against liberals: name-calling and labelling. Actually, the quote from Salon is what is painful to read. Ms Fisher's argument wasn't about "white privilege." Salon pursues name-calling - why I don't read it. Elites criticize those "beneath them" with cheap labels - like calling someone from the South a redneck. Clarissa overreached on "spanked," but the Salon quote is far worse.

    Remember, the studies of "Race, Class, and Gender" always sideline class, because liberals comprise the majority of the upper class.

  4. I think Clarissa overreached too, but only in the tone of post, not the substance. That's because I believe that Peter did not *intend* to use the word spanking to belittle a woman in a sexualized way.

    A wise man recently wrote:

    "We do this all the time. We use verbal flourishes and figures of speech and statistical tricks to make sure that our voice raises up above the constant screaming background tumult of our culture. We use rhetorical tricks to sell everything from toasters to policy ideas. And all of this is part of a delightful soup that is one part Richness of Human Expression and one part Lies.

    So it is useful to step back and ask what reality, what fact, lies behind the expression."

    Clarissa sees something else lying behind an expression. Peter did not. Certainly, cultural conventions are at play here, and this is

    " unending balancing act, between support and conclusions, evidence and interpretation, freedom of expression and boundaries of decency."

    Sometimes a tough call, as Peter well knows. And sometimes cultural convention makes it seem deceptively easy. In this case, I believe this is a damn good perspective:

    Is that view unreasonable? It seems pretty well reasoned to me.

    So maybe a different punishment metaphor would have been a better choice. Raped, perhaps?