‘Depressing idiocy’

Leonie Haimson slams the “depressing idiocy” of Common Core’s English Language Arts standards, which favor “informational text” over fiction.

Fiction stimulates children’s brains and lets them “enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings,” writes Annie Murphy Paul.


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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Fiction stimulates children’s brains and lets them “enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings,” writes Annie Murphy Paul.

    Enter fully? That statement is so obviously untrue that the writer should be embarrassed. Too often in this business we say things that sound nice and that we wish were true.

    I wish I were handsome and charming–but no one should take me seriously if I begin an argument that way.

    • J. D. Salinger says:

      We”d know what you meant if you said you were handsome and charming and be willing to let you get away with it. She should have left out “fully” but that doesn’t negate the points of her argument.

    • Peace Corps says:

      Roger — in my mind, you are handsome and charming 🙂

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    To say that fiction, even good fiction, lets us “enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings” is incredibly presumptuous. It’s like saying, “I can read your mind.” It isn’t just untrue; it’s impossible.

    Fiction allows you to attempt to enter the made-up mind of an author’s made-up character. That’s something important. But it is limited.

    I will take seriously someone who says, “Obama is piling up government debt at a record rate.” I will not take seriously someone who says, “Obama is turning us into a third world country.”

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Agreed. She should have left out the word “fully”.

    • “Obama is piling up government debt at a record rate.” I will not take seriously someone who says, “Obama is turning us into a third world country.?

      He still has a long way to go to match the record of the greatest debt creator in US history, George W. Bush.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Actually, in three years after Obama’s inauguration, the federal debt went up almost as much as it did in the eight years of Bush. The Washington Post, hardly a right-wing or Republican publication, had a piece about it six months ago.


        I think in the six months since then, the Obama debt has matched GWB’s and is on a trajectory to substantially exceed it.

        (But, of course, the Obama debt was for good reasons and the Bush was for bad.)

        • The debt has certainly gone up, but not necessarily because of any of Obama’s policies… the BIGGEST contributor to the national debt in the past few years was simply due to the fact that the economy tanked in 2007… spending has only marginally increased (Obama, has in fact, SLOWED the rate of increase), but tax revenues plummeted. No matter who was in office at the start of 2008, the debt was going to skyrocket for reasons completely out of the president’s control. But hey, its a cheap partisan point to blame Obama for the rise of the debt. (And before you get all whiney, of course, Democrats can be hyper-partisan too.)

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Of course Obama’s policies had a substantial effect on the debt. There were lots of things he could have done to keep it from going up so much. He could have pushed for a repeal of the Bush tax cuts and even called for increased taxes to fund the coming difficulties of Social Security and Medicare. He could have ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He could have refrained from pushing through the various stimulus packages.

            He didn’t do any of those.

            BTW: Obama came into office January 20, 2009. The economy had been declining since 2007–though it really tanked beginning mid-2008.

          • Roger,

            On what planet have you been living on the past 3 years? Obama tried to get the Bush tax cuts reversed for those making over $250,000. Blocked by Republicans. (And before you whine, “oh, that’s class warfare to only repeal the tax cuts for the rich.”… are economy is something like 65% consumer-driven… it makes sense to keep the tax cuts on the middle-class who typically spend the vast majority of their income).

            Although the stimulus packages added to the debt in the short-term, nearly every damn mainstream economist was advocating for an even larger stimulus. During deep recessions, most economists believe the benefits of stimuli outweigh increase in debt. However, the stimulus packages only contributed a relatively SMALL portion of the debt. The vast, vast majority of the debt was because (1) Bush kept the Afghanistan & Iraq wars “off the books”, (2) Bush tax cuts, (3) The “great recession” caused tax revenues to plummet.

            As for Iraq… check the data, Obama has withdrawn us from Iraq… only approx 4000 troops remain in Kuwait. Obama campaigned on withdrawing us from Iraq, but on a deliberate, judicious, slow draw-down.

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            I wasn’t arguing the wisdom of what Obama did, just the reality. In the three plus years he has been president, the federal debt has gone up considerably faster than it did in the eight years that Bush was president. The total increase in those three has pretty much matched the increase in those eight.

            I wasn’t very impressed by his attempt to reverse the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000. One, it wouldn’t have raised much revenue. Two, he didn’t seem to be trying very hard to actually get it passed anyway.

      • How can you possibly say something so stupid?

      • Bush and the Republican Congress ran a deficit of $500 billion a year. Bush and the Democratic Congress ran a deficit of $1 trillion a year. Obama and the Democratic Congress ran a deficit of $1.75 trillion a year.

        • Aye carumba… let me break this down with a simple example.
          Let’s say you earn $60,000 per year, and you spend $61,000 per year. You run a deficit of $1,000 per year. Bad in the long-term because it is cumulative, but depending on the circumstances, may be OK in the short-term. But then catastrophe happens… you lose your job. Your revenue plummets. You must cut spending, but you have no choice to borrow to cover expenses that must be paid (rent, food, etc). So you cut your spending to $15,000 per year. You are running a deficit of $15,000. Obviously, very, very dangerous in the long-term.

          In the example above, the deficit went from $1000 to $15,000. But it had NOTHING to do with “new” policies (eg, you decided to go on a wild spending spree). It is solely attributed to the drop in revenue.

          So when Repubs whine about the deficit WITHOUT taking into account the huge drop in tax revenues, then you are being disingenuous. You certainly can legitimately critique Obama if you feel he did not aggressively cut spending more, but to bash him for the absolute magnitude of the deficit is beyond partisan hackery, given that any president would be dealing with that huge deficit given the “great recession.”

          • Roger Sweeny says:


            I hope you are not accusing me of partisan hackery. I was simply reacting to Mike in Texas’ statement that, “He [Obama] still has a long way to go to match the record of the greatest debt creator in US history, George W. Bush.”

            I pointed out that the federal debt created in the three years since Obama became president is about equal to the federal debt created in the eight years that Bush was president. I’m not arguing good or bad, just putting out some simple arithmetic.

            In your simple example, I lose my job, cut my spending, but wind up deeper in debt because I have nothing coming in. That has not been the case with the federal government. Federal income has indeed gone down, but only from about 19% of GDP in 2007 to an estimated low of 15% in 2011 and 16% in 2012. Expenditure was 20% of GDP in 2007 but was up to almost 25% two years later, and is still well over 23%.

            Wikipedia has a nice time graph:

          • @jab

            Actually, less than half of the increased debt in President Obama’s first year were from reduced revenue.

            In 2008, with President Bush and a Democratic Congress, the government spent 2.9825 trillion dollars. The government had a total revenue of 2.524 trillion dollars. The deficit was .4586 trillion dollars.

            In 2009, with President Obama and a Democratic Congress, the government spent 3.5177 trillion dollars (an increase of .5352 trillion dollars). The government had a total revenue of 2.105 trillion dollars (a decrease of .419 trillion dollars). The deficit was now 1.4127 trillion dollars (.4586 trillion baseline from 2008, + .419 trillion less revenue, + 535.2 trillion in increased spending).

            So the increased spending alone more than doubled the deficit, and was significantly higher than the absolute value of the decreased revenue.

    • Roger, I don’t believe you’re taking into account the context of the comment.

      In the larger world outside the edu-sphere the validity of a point of view is quite often burdened with the requirement that some proof be offered in support. Not always of course, as suggested by Rahm Emanuel’s observation about the value of crises, but generally people want some assurance that an assertion is backed up by proof.

      In the edu-sphere however that standard doesn’t apply.

      Much more important is the utility of an idea in projecting an air of cutting-edge modernity and mysterious complexity both of which are useful in projecting authority and enjoying the dominance that authority confers. Public education elective officials and professionals, parroting Heimson’s line, display their opposition to “depressing idiocy”. Who can be in favor of “depressing idiocy”.

      By avoiding even a sketchy attempt to support their position with evidence the case for the use of objective evidence in any question associated with public education is, by inference, undercut.

      Notice Mike’s shying away from the issue entirely.

      Testing, measurement, objective criteria for performance are all anathema to many inhabitants of the edu-sphere and they reflexively shy away from discussions based on such where they can and attack the idea when they can’t.