2016: Five Years On….and then Trump

Having done three posts in a week–no small task for this slow writer–I was going to abandon a retrospective post this year. My traffic is down, and while I’m not concerned, I thought eh, no reason to write about it.

But I’ve written a retrospective every year. I started this blog on January 1, 2012 as a New Year’s Resolution, and when the anniversy went by I instantly felt a nagging sense of guilt and duty–and so, a retrospection. But not really on my blog.

For the first thirty years of my  working life, I played mostly at the edges of occupations. A friend once introduced me as someone who does “obscure technical things” and that was when I worked at a large corporation. For many years, I made a decent living doing things few people cared about, or thought you could make a living at like, say, tutoring. Teaching is a mainstream, non-niche profession if ever there was one, but I was reminded that my opinions are still niche when I tried to write about my career.  Getting any publication interested in my experiences or observations was a total non-starter. I occasionally got nibbles, but the intersection between what I could write about in 750 words and what someone was interested in publishing was almost non-existent–and I gave up trying rather easily.

And so the blog, with this resolution. I could focus on what interested me, not what was fashionable, and build an audience writing on topics as they occurred to me, not on what was timely. I could maybe start getting my audience to look at education as I did, or find like-minded folks, or both. I achieved more success than I ever dreamed in the first year and every year since has been better.

Then this year, this year that so many in the media rather provincially declare a gruesome annus horribilis, because they’re a bunch of narcissistic puppies who demand we share their misery. But I had a simply splendid time and for reasons directly related to the biography above.

I love politics, but as a spectator sport. My life is as niche as my careers are (custodial divorced parent, first generation college graduate, low six figure income, white, English major working in technology OR teaching math–pick three and you still have trouble forming a club,  much less a political action committee. Heads of households who make too much for the Child Tax Credit: not a big interest group.)

So since I never expected politicians to speak to my interests, I became very interested in determining who politicians were talking to, which eventually led me to realize that politicians were weren’t talking to. Broadly, I realized that politicians were flatly ignoring an important interest group: working people making less than, say, mid-six figures. Note I said “interest group”. Many vote ideology, just as I do, despite their income level and best economic interests. Politicians seemed to be taking this for granted. They were running on issues largely ideological terms, both left and right. But they were ignoring areas that clearly affected and interested wide swathes of the electorate.

I came to this realization via immigration and education, two areas that I’ve been watching and reading about for thirty years. I was unaware of the depth of disaster done by China to manufacturing in this country, but it plays to the same failure to speak to the public’s interests.

So even before Sean Trende pointed it out, I was wondering why no one was making a play for white voters. This realization is one of the issues that led me to notice the great Steve Sailer in the early oughts. Like Steve, I’m not a white nationalist–in fact, I believe that implementing the “Sailer Strategy” would ultimately result in more blacks and Hispanics coming to the GOP. But white voters were a large enough group to make zeitgeist defiance a worthwhile risk. From there, it’s a short step to understanding that the GOP was just giving lip service to immigration and cultural issues because, in part, the conservative elites shared the same values as the media and liberal elites and had no plans to change anything.

Like many others, I’ve long believed elites were engaging in an effort to shut down opposition to these key values. The left and right both brought about political or economic doom for those who went against the grain–no donors to run for office,  shaming, job loss,  whatever was needed to achieve an apology or social and economic obliteration. That’s….not how our country is supposed to work. I have a close friend who said, years ago, that the only person who could break through would be a really rich person who didn’t give a damn about winning approval. I went further than that: I was certain that many in the country were deeply disgusted with the media’s enforcement of the canon, whether or not they called it The Cathedral, and were longing to see someone take them on–and that person, yes, would have to be really rich and already famous.

Enter Trump, but this isn’t about the election. It’s All About Me.

Instead of playing my usual role disengaged but passionate political observer, I was watching a neophyte politician with a genius for stagecraft promoting exactly the ideas that I thought were necessary to win disaffected white voters, using exactly the unapologetic, flagrant violation of media expectations I thought it would take. I had skin in this game. I wanted Trump to win the GOP nomination. I hoped he would win the presidency.

Not only was I fully engaged, but I had genuine understanding and insight into the forces driving the greatest and most shocking presidential campaign in our history. No longer niche, baby.

This mattered to no one but me. My Twitter engagement numbers exploded, but as mentioned, my blog traffic was down. Moreover, I’m not a predictor. I didn’t make any Ann Coulter or Scott Adams calls early on, didn’t go out there like Bill Mitchell and confidently call the election. I’m all about if-then. In fact, while I expected Trump, my hope for his victory was an if-then:

What I valued about the experience isn’t increased fame or respect (“strange new” or otherwise). I cherished the opportunity to really participate in an earthshaking event. When you’ve spent your life in niche issues, reading about politics but not caring terribly who wins or loses,  playing on the main stage, even as one member of a huge choir, is exhilarating.

I watched the whole thing happen. Unlike the vast majority of conventional thinkers that populate the airwaves and web, I understood most of the events. I understood Trump’s popularity. I understood why the media’s anger and outrage only helped him. I understood why he didn’t apologize, didn’t back down, struck hard when attacked. I understood why his voters wanted this.

Thanks to Twitter, I got to voice my disdain of the experts (who often answered, if only to block me), as well as my considerable outrage that cable TV, in particular, gave little time to Trump voters, while over-representing Never Trumpers. (My concern was not for equal time, but for the very real probability, early on, that the Never Trump folks would undo the primary results without giving the opposition a fair hearing. Fortunately, polls intervened.)

Best of all, I found kindred spirits, people who were watching the election with very similar insights and hopes. Ed Asante and David Pinsen were , like me, were  “ordinary” people who happened to support Trump (often referred to as “sane Trump Twitter supporters”), and I thoroughly enjoyed agreeing with them throughout the year.  Media folks Mickey Kaus, Michael Goodwin, and Mark Krikorian also viewed the election through the same lens of media skepticism and enthusiasm for the ideas of Trump, if not necessarily the imperfect vessel himself.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey how much sheer fun I had actively participating, being “on point”to others  unless you, too, are an introvert whose concerns, professional and personal, are usually shared by perhaps a dozen people. Maybe a thousand or so nataionwide. And suddenly, the single biggest issue in my interest area was shared by millions.

I even learned something. While I still believe immigration won Trump the primary, I’m leaning towards the notion that trade was essential to putting him over the top. If it’s true that many Obama voters in the Big 4 (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio) voted for Trump this time round, then that has to be trade, not immigration that moved them. However, Trump couldn’t (and can’t) back down on immigration, because he can’t let down the GOP base.

The campaign period was not without difficulties, but they were all the struggles of any Trump voter: reading your favorite writers express utter disdain for you, never mind Trump, getting blocked early on by conservative writers who simply couldn’t grasp what was happening to their beloved party, feeling outraged at the media’s utterly unhinged misrepresentations and open bias. Nothing to dim the joy I felt.

I don’t know if I’m going to feel more vested in political events going forward. I’m going to enjoy finding out.

So. That is my retrospective on the year.

Blogwise: traffic was down, but I still had more “big” pieces than 2014, which is still my highest traffic year. I’m down from 2015, when I had 11 pieces over 1500, this year I had only 5. The midlists were off–I had no essays with 2000 pageviews, and a ton of work that usually hit 1000 plus views didn’t make it that far. I’ve been looking at the quality and topic of the pieces, and don’t see a huge difference. Given the disconnect between my twitter growth and my blog page views fall-off, I’m thinking it might be a falloff in my teacher readers. I hope not.

But it might just be that haven’t been promoting my work as vigorously. I’ll try to do better.

I set my sights on 48 essays. Hahahahaha. I did make 37, one more than last year! I shall try again for 4 essays a month.

Essays written this year with over 1500 page views:

Title Date Views
Notes from a Trump Supporter: It’s the Immigration, Stupid! 01/31/2016 5,147
Defining the Alt Right 09/05/2016 3,499
Citizens, Not Americans 06/16/2016 3,264
The Many Failings of Value-Added Modeling 05/20/2016 1,968
The SAT is Corrupt: Reuters Version 03/29/2016 1,903

Pieces I think are quite good:

Happy Teacher Stories–I think you need to be a skeptical cynic to really deliver in this genre, so I’m born for it:

  • Citizens, Not Americans (above), is one of my favorite pieces ever; I was pleased to see it do well. I have a good friend who is a highly-esteemed professor of education, who was devastated by Trump’s win. When we go to lunch, he asks about Dwayne, Chuy, and Omar. And if you want to know how they felt about Trump’s win, check out Celebrating Trump in a Deep Blue Land.
  • Graduating My Geometry Class: I taught roughly 75% of my school’s class of 2016, including a group of freshmen four years ago in the first class of my (and their) first year.
  • A Clarifying Moment: a student comes back to visit. By the way, Hui brought me some insanely amazing baked goods for Christmas.

Classroom Action


Teaching Issues–you know, these are all interesting aspects of teaching that most people don’t think about and got little traffic, so pass them on.

Education Policy:

Finally, one piece that may become more viewed in the Trump era: Arizona’s Experience and the Tale It Tells, about the Wall Street Journal’s report on Arizona’s illegal immigration law.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

About educationrealist

15 responses to “2016: Five Years On….and then Trump

  • Robert

    The Libertarians were predicting a Trump victory at their poll research group in early Summer. https://www.facebook.com/groups/736882696414329/

    Trump was smart enough not to attack them. Clinton no, losing the Libertarianist center that decides elections now.

  • 57dimensions

    I don’t think I’ve seen you talk about this specifically on your blog–and I have read quite a significant number of your posts–so do you think that teaching kids math (especially levels above arithmetic) is helpful? Like to their lives in general? Has learning trig really helped that many people? I’m thinking about in ways other than credentialism, because colleges like it when you take the highest level math class you can, but is that a good enough reason to attempt to teach all high school kids highish level math? Especially since very few of them seem to remember it (and/or even learn it in the first place) the next month. Sorry if this isn’t too clear, I’m pretty tired.

    • Roger Sweeny

      colleges like it when you take the highest level math class you can

      A cynic might say,

      1. This is a disguised IQ test.

      2. But unlike an IQ test, there is also an element of aggressiveness. A college admissions officer can honestly (if somewhat delusionally) think she is not rewarding IQ but intellectual curiosity and the willingness to challenge oneself academically.

      3. Contradicting–or perhaps complementing–that, it says that the student is docile, “You want me to take lots of math; I’ll take lots of math. If you accept me, I’ll do what you want me to do.”

      • educationrealist

        Yes. Alas. Roger should start a blog.

      • Momof5

        I remember the arrival of the self-esteem movement and all of its cousins; all grandly asserting that praising kids constantly (even if unjustified)/xyz would increase achievement because kids taking xyz did better academically. Said cousins included 8th grade algebra (at that time only offered at honors level), Latin, debate, advanced math/science, modern foreign languages, music, honors classes, AP/IB classes etc – all of which, at the time, were taken only by the brightest, most-prepared and most motivated kids. Said courses/high self-esteem did not cause higher achievement; they served as proxy variables for the identification of the students described above! Now we have the sheer idiocy of requiring all kids to take an AP course to graduate, as is the case in Prince George’s County (MD) – a venue not known for high academic achievement- and associated idiocies. An AP English teacher there often commented at the WaPo that he regularly had kids in his class who read at the 5th-7th-grade level, or less. Sigh…

    • educationrealist

      I think the closest I came to answering the question was here:

      Charles Murray retweeted my why not that essay, saying that I was the opposite of an educational romantic, and I don’t disagree. But he’s also tweeted that I’m a masochist for sticking it out—implying, I think, that working with kids who can’t genuinely understand the material must be a sad and hopeless task. (and if he’s not making that point, others have.) I noticed a similar line of thought in this nature/nurture essay by Tom Bennett says teachers would not write off a child with low grades as destined to stack shelves –implication that stacking shelves is a destiny unworthy of education.

      The flip side of that reasoning looks like this: Why should only some students have access to a rich, demanding curriculum and this twitter conversation predicated on the assumption that low income kids get boring curricula with no rigor and low expectations.

      Both mindsets have the same premise: education’s purpose is to improve kids’ academic ability, that education without improvement is soulless drudgery, whether cause or effect. One group says if you know kids can’t improve, what a dreary life teaching is. The other group says dreary teaching with low expectations is what causes the low scores—engage kids, better achievement. Both mindsets rely on the assumption that education is improvement.

      Is it?

      Suppose that in six months my weakest kids’ test scores are identical to the kids who doodled or slept through a boring lecture on the same material. Assume this lesson does nothing to increase their intrinsic motivation to learn math. Assume that some of the kids end up working the night shift at 7-11. Understand that I do make these assumptions.

      Are the kids in my class better off for the experience? Was there value in the lesson itself, in the culmination of all those worksheets that gave them the basis to take on the challenge, in the success of their math in that moment? Is it worth educating kids if they don’t increase their abilities?

      I believe the answer is yes.

      Mine is not in any way a dreary task but an intellectual challenge: convince unmotivated students to take on advanced math—ideally, to internalize the knowledge for later recall. If not, I want them to have a memory of success, of achievement—not a false belief, not one that says “I’m great at math” but one that says “It’s worth a try”. Not miracles. Just better.

      I would prefer an educational policy that set more realistic goals, gave kids more hope of actual mastery. But this will do in the meantime.

      I have no evidence that my approach is superior, that lowering expectations but increasing engagement and effort is a better approach. I rely on faith. And so, I’m not entirely sure that I’m not an educational romantic.

      Besides. It’s fun.

      And I think I need to write this part up as an essay on its own self, so thanks for the idea.

      • jb

        My educational experience topped out in graduate school with an M.A. in physics, and I think I was a reasonably good student. Yet if I were to go back and retake those tests I would for the most part fail abysmally! (Perhaps not all of them though — I think I know more history now than I ever did). So if I didn’t retain the material, what good did my schooling do me, other than provide me with a credential that led to a decent job?

        The answer I’ve settled on is that it taught me how to learn. Again and again I was hit with what was essentially the same challenge, repeated over and over: here is something new, your job is to understand it. So I got a lot of practice at learning new things. That by the following year I had forgotten many of those things is unfortunate, but the fact is that most of what I forgot would never have been of any use to me anyway. What I believe did stick with me, as a result of endless repetition, was the (enormously valuable!) skill of picking up something new.

        I think this is probably the single biggest benefit of a formal education, and I think the benefit applies to everyone. The dull student who learns a little trigonometry and a little algebra is unlikely to retain them for long, and certainly won’t be using them “working the night shift at 7-11”. But I do think it’s possible that the experience of having to strain himself intellectually in school will have made him more capable of meeting that job’s challenges. He won’t merely have “the memory of success”, he will actually be, to some degree, more capable, and thus more successful at whatever he ends up doing.

        Anyway, that’s how I think about it, and I’d be interested in your take. (Also, I haven’t read very many of your posts, so it’s possible you’ve said exactly this somewhere. If so I’m pleased to have arrived at the same conclusion independently!)

      • Roger Sweeny

        Learn, use, and forget is an under-appreciated skill.

        Unfortunately, a lot of what many students do is not “learn and use” prior to the forgetting but just “mindlessly memorize.” E.g., You practice the same problems over and over again. Then you have a test with almost the exact same problems, just with different numbers. I have found that high school students have amazing short term memories.

  • Barry Steakfries

    Ed, I’m a career switcher entering an MIT program this spring, and am glad to have found your fascinating blog (hat tip: links from Slatestarcodex). I spent almost a month reading it daily to get through all the older posts. Slightly terrifying, but clarifying.

    I’m still very excited about teaching, but will enter Ed School with a better ability to avoid tripping ideological landmines and a “unified theory” of policy to be tested against future experience.

    Thank you!

    • educationrealist

      Hey, thanks! Please share my blog with your compadres in ed school. It might help them–and I can always use the page views.

      Good luck with your program! You’ll enjoy it. And remember, if you can reach the kids, everything else comes with time.

  • charles w abbott

    Thanks for your blog. “More grease to your elbow,” as they say.

  • Peter Akuleyev

    My response to you would be careful what you wish for. Recent wold history is full of examples where common people threw out a corrupt, unresponsive elite and replaced it with something far worse. The historical success of the Anglosphere is that we in the US, UK, Canada, etc. have traditionally rejected radicals and supported moderate change.

    Trump is also not very popular. He won because the system seems to be so corrupt that no one better could be found. In my Republican circles the number of people who held their noses to vote against Hilary outnumber actual Trump supporters by a considerable margin. In all likelihood Trump is going to radicalise and widen the divisions in this country even further, which will make angry and nihilistic people quite happy, on both the right and left, but accelerate the inevitable break-up of the US.

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