Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Pad a Story

[Media] Writers: So you've got a cogent and timely 3,500-word piece about results-based educational standards, but your editor is demanding 6,200 words. Whatever shall you do?

It's quite a pickle. Fortunately, Malcolm Gladwell's got it all figured out: Just interpolate a tedious football metaphor! It may ruin an otherwise decent article, but you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that neither educators nor football fans will ever summon enough patience to finish reading it.

Here's the condensed version of Gladwell's "Most Likely to Succeed," Dec. 15, New Yorker:
Football, blah blah blah, football.

Some important people have reasoned that the performance of teachers in the U.S. education system can be judged by how much their students learn over the course of a school year. They call this "value-added analysis."

Football, yada yada, "offensive gaps," college vs. NFL bullshit. Also, this boldly homoerotic quote: "In the spread, you see a lot of guys wide open." Yet even more football, blah blah blah, football.

Some teachers do a better job at keeping students' attention than others. Experts can determine which are which by watching videotaped classroom sessions. Good teachers have a knack for engaging students as individuals, whereas bad teachers seem to regard the classroom as a mass of undifferentiated humanity. A guy named Jacob Kounin says the good teachers have something called "withiness."

Some people believe that the great success of the financial sector could be replicated in the public school system if Wall Street's Lord of the Flies-style hiring standards were applied to teachers: Financial firms interview a lot of potential employees, but very few make the cut. Then, over the next five years, almost everybody gets fired.

Such a scheme would cost taxpayers more than the present track-and-tenure system, but the idea holds appeal for those who think both teachers' unions and standards-based reformers are on the wrong course.

Football, football, oh god kill me now, football, blah blah blah, football.
(Brandon Burt)


  1. I just wanted to throw in an atta-boy to Brandon. I have lived in Utah for over five years and have never seen someone be willing to put it all on the line.
    Is he sometimes a little snarky? Too wordy? Sure, but he is willing to say what he thinks no matter the vitriol that comes his way.
    Salt Lake and Utah need more people like Brandon.
    I judge how well he did by the number of negative responses so I hope more people start to read Salt Blog and get the discussions going!

  2. Gee, you've been here five whole years, Clark?

    If you're willing to put in a few more, you'll see that Utah produces this type personality like Mormon's produce babies. Regardless of which side any given Utahn is on, it is an "us against them" attitude, and there will never be a shortage of negative comments from either side. Utahn's are the most passive-aggressive people you'll ever meet - this place just has that effect.


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