Just another hysterical female…


Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women, which is today no longer recognized by medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the 19th century. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and  “a tendency to cause trouble”. In extreme cases the woman would be forced into the asylum and under go surgical hysterectomy. – from Wikipedia (emphasis mine)

As the Obama Administration’s education policy rolls on into a second term, I didn’t think that Arne Duncan was in any danger of having to find a new job, but that was before reading this bit on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog. Here is the gist:

…opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

While the article notes that Duncan has made similar statements before, this is only true in the sense that he’s said that suburban kids are not doing as well as many thought, and that districts had been “lying” to parents about how well their children were doing. Now he is suggesting that “mothers” have joined these districts in some  Folie à Deux (since we’re on outdated psychiatric diagnosis, I thought I’d throw that one in).

This new argument, however, goes one step further than insulting the intelligence of mothers, and the professionalism of New York educators, as he also has thrown in the race card. You don’t call out “white” suburban moms without a reason. Whatever I believe about Mr. Duncan, he is a very canny communicator, and the use of that term was deliberate. He’s trying to say something about this “delusion” white mothers have about their kids being tied in with a sense of race privilege. It’s a really masterful use of verbal jujitsu, and plays well to certain audiences. Those audiences, alas, do not include white women.

Recent combativeness and disrespect to “moms” of this type by New York Commissioner John King led to calls for his ouster, and while he is still standing, he’s taken a position against testing in K-2. Whatever the reasons for that announcement, needing to throw a bone to his opponents probably had something to do with it (either in timing or content).

What could make statements like this from Mr. Duncan beyond the pale in the administration? Well, there are mid-term elections coming up. The Democrats will need white female voters, many of whom have not been enamored of the Tea Party. There is one policy exception to this: moms who don’t like the Common Core, find comity with the Tea Party on that issue. I’m not one who believes that Obama has no idea what his Education Secretary is doing in his name, what I’m wondering is if the pollsters and election advisors at the DNC do, because if they do, he’s probably going to be taken to the woodshed shortly.



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