Columns

Fixing what’s broken in Latino education

It’s the $57 million question. That’s roughly one dollar for each Latino/a living in the United States.

The question — which I seem to be getting asked a lot lately — goes something like this: “What needs to happen for Latino/a students to fulfill their full academic potential?”

The answer has been hard to come by for the last few generations, even to people who work in the educational system.

Correction. Better make that especially to people who work in the educational system.

Not good. America is becoming more Latino by the day. Currently, one in four children in kindergarten is Latino. If this population isn’t better served by our public schools, the whole country will be in great difficulty.

Because my brain works in threes, I’ll tackle the subject from three different angles: My own experience as a student, teacher, and parent; what I’ve learned over the years from studying education, teaching students, and being around educators; and what, as a journalist, I’ve gathered from interviewing current and retired teachers and administrators.

— First, my own experience. I’m the hexagon who wound up at Harvard. In elementary school, I benefited from ability-grouping. My teacher divided up 30 students into five groups of six students each, and assigned each group a shape. There were circles, squares, triangles, rectangles. I was a hexagon, one of the smart kids, and the only Latino in that group. I worked hard over the next six or seven years in the toughest courses available. I became valedictorian and went to Harvard. But one of the reasons I found myself on track to take those difficult courses was because I started out as a hexagon.

After college, I spent five years as a substitute teacher in my old school district, where I saw the plague of low expectations up-close in a way that I never did as a student. It’s amazing what you can pick up in the teacher’s lounge about which students are expected to go to college or which are more likely to wind up in jail. The one big lesson I learned was that the public schools don’t exist for the convenience and benefit of the young people who study there but rather for the convenience and benefit of the adults who work there.

Now, as a parent, my wife and I have learned another lesson: not all children learn the same way, and so they ought not be taught in the same manner. My three kids attended a Montessori charter school for the first several years of their schooling. Today, our 11-year-old son — who needs rules, deadlines, supervision, and consequences — goes to public school. Our daughters — ages 9 and 13 — are being homeschooled by my wife, who is a teacher, and spending part of their week in supervised instruction at a traditional charter school. So far, everyone seems to be going with the flow of their specialized educational approach. Apparently, one size doesn’t fit all.

— Second, given what I’ve learned over the years about educational best practices from experience and research, I always come back to one idea over all others: In order for Latino students to realize their academic potential, all three legs of the stool — parents, students, and teachers — have to be working together and treating one another with respect. Instead of undermining one another, or shifting blame while making excuses for what they’re not doing well, all three entities must work in concert toward the common goal of educating the student. That doesn’t always happen, but it needs to.

— Third, from many years of reporting and listening to educators tell me what works and doesn’t work in reaching and teaching Latino students, I have heard some good ideas. A high school principal told me that the priorities should be early learning at the K-3 level, hiring enough school counselors and psychologists, and finding qualified and well-trained teachers who can learn new tricks. A retired teacher said the secrets were maintaining effective communication between home and school, requiring strict accountability for student performance, and changing how we think about education to the point where we pay teachers more and perhaps even give them low-interest home loans to encourage them to remain in the profession.

For me, helping Latino/a students fulfill their academic potential starts with changing the paradigm. Fifty years ago, if that promise went unfulfilled, it was assumed there was something wrong with the student. Twenty-five years ago, the blame shifted to Latino parents who, according to a vicious lie, didn’t value education. Now it is time to put the blame where it belongs: on the schools, and the people who work there.

Folks like to talk about fixing what’s broken. The schools are what’s broken. Let the fix begin there.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

A nation at war with itself

What’s wrong with people?

I bet you’ve shaken your head and wondered the exact same thing lately. It’s obvious that a lot of folks — in both political parties — have a “chip” missing that prevents them from knowing what constitutes inappropriate behavior.

They may have majored in social studies and mastered social media, but they are in urgent need of social skills.

Who knows how these folks got this way. Their parents should have detected this glitch in their wiring and tried to fix it with therapy. Or maybe their peer group in high school and college could have drummed it out of them with a disapproving: “Not cool, man.”

But somehow, somewhere, someone missed a stitch. And here we are — with perhaps millions of Americans roving around, bumping into each other, invading each other’s space, and offending one another left and right. Literally.

If you’re on the left and still baffled by how anyone could support President Donald Trump, you’re convinced our descent into incivility began with his ascension to the White House.

If you’re on the right, you likely blame the national tsunami of rudeness on the anti-Trump media and their soul mates in the Democratic Party who want to run Trump out of office — or at least defeat him for re-election in 2020.

Politics has never been a beanbag. Yet these days — in the aftermath of the horrid 2016 presidential election with its no-win choice between “bad” and “worse” — something feels different.

Everything is much more personal. People are meaner, angrier and unhappier. Folks lose an election, and they get upset. They win an election, and they get even more upset.

Half the country hates the guts of the other half, and vice versa. Americans have always liked to fight, but now — when they fight each other — they no longer fight fair. They’re always in each other’s faces and questioning each other’s motives.

Most of all, now that we know everything that everyone is doing at every hour of the day thanks to social media, we feel more comfortable feeling superior to one another. Everyone seems to think they’re better than everyone else. Conservatives think they’re more patriotic. Liberals think they’re more compassionate. Moderates think they’re more open-minded.

And because we have such a high opinion of ourselves and such a low opinion of everyone else, we can justify bad behavior toward those who, we tell ourselves, get what they deserve.

However we got here, America is in awfully bad shape. We’re way past the minor annoyances of drivers cutting us off on the freeway and then claiming two spots in a parking lot.

This isn’t just about anti-Trump protesters ripping pro-Trump signs out of the hands of Trump supporters and tearing them up, or Trump supporters chanting “Lock her up!” at rallies whenever someone brings up Hillary Clinton.

Americans’ bout with bad manners isn’t limited to people being obnoxiously loud on a subway, littering in a park, cutting in line at amusement parks, and filing into the express checkout line at the supermarket with double the number of items permitted.

It’s not even about the madness that has permeated academics, where students scold professors and demand “safe spaces” from ideas that they find upsetting.

All that is pretty bad. But it’s still nickels and dimes.

We should be more worried that Trump boorishly crossed another line this week when, during a rally in Mississippi, he turned Christine Blasey Ford — who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in their teens — into a punchline. It is wrong to drag a possible crime victim into the political arena.

We should be worried about gatherings like the recent Atlantic Festival in Washington, where people who think they’re the smart kids in class show that they’re not too smart because they react to opposing views like a vampire reacts to a cross. This past week, the crowd booed Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, for saying that Kavanaugh had been “treated like crap.”

And we should be worried about the infamous Senate elevator ambush, where Democratic activists claiming to be sexual-assault victims got into the personal space of Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and harangued him on his way to work on the Judiciary Committee — and then videotaped the whole fiasco. “Look at me!” one of the women repeatedly screamed at Flake.

We are looking at you, America. And we’re disgusted by what we see.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

© 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Life’s not fair

Many parents will relate to this story. My three children may be growing up in the same house. But — at 9, 11, and 13 — they’re quickly growing into totally different people.

My oldest daughter’s first word was: “dada.” My middle son’s first word was: “mama.”

But, I’m pretty sure that my youngest daughter’s first words were a loud and definitive protest that went like this:

“It’s not fair!”

That’s how it is with many families, I’m sure. The baby always feels like they’re the one with the eternal grievance, the one who has been wronged, the one who always gets ignored or winds up with the short end of the stick.

And this is how it is with my little girl. At least once a week, she makes certain to inform my wife and I that something isn’t right in her world. Either she is not getting her share of ice cream, or she is being asked to do one too many chores.

So, to stick up for herself, she’ll holler: “It’s not fair!”

Lately, every time I hear my daughter belt out say those three words, I immediately think of that old saying about how no one ever said life was fair or promised it would be.

I think about how John F. Kennedy — our nation’s first and, to date, only Catholic president — made a point of telling Americans, every chance he got, that they should not expect fairness at every turn or for life to turn out to be a bowl of cherries. In March 1962, when asked by reporters at a press conference about his plan to send more U.S. troops to Vietnam, Kennedy noted: “There is always inequality in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded and some men never leave the country. Life is unfair.”

There it is. Short and sweet, with the added benefit of being true. Life is unfair. Deal with it. Simple as that.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Those of us who have gone a few rounds with life will attest to the unfairness, but also to the virtues in accepting that fact without complaint and without casting yourself as a victim.

There is no point in that all-too-common exercise, which only makes obstacles in your path or the adversaries who put them there.

Just don’t try telling that to factory workers in Ohio who lost their jobs when the factory closed years ago, and who are still hoping it re-opens. Or the young Latinos who have never had a decent job to lose, and think white people are holding them back.

Don’t tell that to the white male who didn’t get into Stanford and who is convinced that what he considers a less qualified African-American woman took his spot, or an African-American high school student who thinks his classmates enjoy “white privilege” because they can afford tutors and test preparation courses.

And, above all, don’t waste your time trying to sell that line to my 9-year-old daughter who is not about to surrender her victim status without ample compensation. It gives her leverage, and — sadly — even a built-in excuse if she ever comes up short in whatever goal she pursues.

“Don’t look at me. It’s not my fault. Life is unfair.”

No one wants to hear about how we must accept the unfairness of life and rise above it. They’re all wedded to the narrative that casts them as the victim, and they’re not about to let go.

Moreover, every four years, they can look forward to a steady stream of presidential candidates coming by and promising them that they will restore fairness by ending a trade deal, scrapping affirmative action, re-opening a factory, closing the border, imposing a tariff, starting a trade war or doing anything else that must be done to “level the playing field.”

Not that old chestnut. I guess it falls to me to reveal what many of us have already learned: There is no such thing as a level playing field. Not in this life, not anywhere. There never has, and there never will be. It’s a total fantasy.

Sure, there are Americans — including our president — who think that our country got shafted by the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. Guess what? The Mexicans think the same thing. Ditto for the Canadians. That’s the very nature of trade deals. Everyone who has ever signed one thinks they got taken to the cleaners by the other parties.

Some people start off with advantages over others, or have to overcome obstacles that others will never face. Some people sprint through life, others hobble. Some people are handed their inheritance on a silver platter while others scrape for everything they have. Some people have a God-given talent for an art form, while others struggle to express themselves.

There is no way to smooth out all those rough edges, no matter what some loose-lipped politician promises you. And yes, you may indeed be victimized now and then by this or that. But the trick is not to let that injustice define you or defeat you.

Recently, I’ve learned a thing or two I didn’t know about my alma mater. According to the New York Times, the Harvard admissions office has — since the 1970s — discreetly maintained something it calls the “Z-list.” In recent years, about 50 to 60 applicants wind up on the list on the condition that they agree to defer their enrollment by one year. It has been alleged in a lawsuit over the school’s admissions policies that many of the students on the list are legacies (i.e., the children of alumni) who might not otherwise have the academic credentials to get in on the natural.

These days, of every 100 students who apply to Harvard, only five get in. It is currently the most selective college in America.

According to the Times, there is also a “dean’s interest list” or a “director’s interest list” that identifies candidates with other connections to Harvard. Presumably, these people also get special treatment in the admissions process.

Are you kidding me? What happened to merit, standards, maybe a little friendly cut-throat competition?

All these trap doors, and secret passageways, and underground tunnels running underneath Harvard Square so that the privileged and the elite can find their way to the mother ship of privilege and elitism. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

And it never ends. Look where I sit, what I see every day. God didn’t give me athletic, musical, artistic or mechanical ability. But He gave me this — the ability to express myself with passion and clarity in ways that make people think.

Granted, I’ve done a fair amount with that gift over the years. Even so, I do now and then run across other individuals in my line of work who are further down the track. They’ve accomplished more, accumulated more accolades, achieved more fame.

Often, these people had a head-start or a leg up. Sometimes, all they had — or needed — was well-connected parents who went to the right schools and belonged to the right clubs.

Me? I’m the grandson of farm workers, and the son of a retired cop. I grew up in farm country in a town surrounded by grapevines and crippled by low expectations. What connections did I have?

I think of my Harvard classmate Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, who spent his summers home from college interning with NBC News thanks to a family friend and wound up running the peacock network at one point.

Or conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh who has, on numerous occasions, told his audience that he got his first break in broadcasting thanks to his father’s connections.

Or journalist Carl Cannon, whose father, Lou, built a solid reputation in our business and became a biographer of Ronald Reagan.

Or Mark Halperin, the former political director of NBC News, whose father was a foreign policy expert and served in three presidential administrations.

Or Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist, who recently discussed with the podcast, “The Axe Files,” hosted by CNN’s David Axelrod, how he was recruited out of Harvard to write for The Atlantic because the editor came looking for talent at the Harvard Crimson, where Douthat was writing a column.

That’s how life works. Some people get breaks that others don’t get, and it’s not always about talent or skill or merit or hard work or getting what one deserves. Sometimes it’s just about dumb luck. Sometimes it’s about knowing the right people — or merely being in a position to meet them someday. The list of the lucky, and the connected, goes on and on.

So what? What are any of us supposed to do about this? We can’t change it. Some things will go our way, and other factors will go against us. We have to take the good with the bad — and adapt. We shouldn’t expect the world to be fair, but nor should we fall apart at our first encounter with unfairness.

This is what we should be teaching our children — that they should be grateful, thoughtful, helpful and kind but also resilient in the face of adversity. They don’t need to be taught how to succeed, but rather how to persevere when they fail. And they don’t get to use the mysterious unfairness of the universe as an excuse for their mistakes, missteps and shortcomings. That’s on them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an important sermon to give to a certain precocious 9-year-old who thinks the whole world is against her.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Kavanaugh hearings put confirmation process on trial — and the verdict is guilty

I’ll just say it: I believe both of them.

In this climate, I’ll get hammered by loyal partisans on both the right and the left for reaching such a conclusion. But I don’t care.

We’re living at a time when a lot of people can decide whether testimony is believable even before hearing it. Don’t confuse us with facts, we’re too busy formulating an opinion.

But the truth is tricky. You might think there is only one version. You’d be wrong. The mind is a mysterious thing with the power to convince us something happened or didn’t happen.

Think of all the people who sit in jail right now, wrongly convicted and hoping to one day be exonerated by DNA evidence. Many of them are locked up because of one of the most unreliable forms of evidence: eyewitness testimony. You have all these people doing their civic duty who, it turns out, were 100 percent certain of identifications that were false.

Thirty years ago, I spent a semester back home in Fresno County working as a law clerk at the Public Defender’s Office. I spent the next semester seeing things from the other side of the table by working at the District Attorney’s Office.

One thing I learned: The criminal justice system is terribly imperfect, just like the human beings who created it. Mistakes are made every single day. Guilty people sometimes go free, while innocent people sometimes go to jail.

I believe that something terrible happened to Christine Blasey Ford at a house party in Maryland more than three decades ago, and that she sincerely believes — and has always believed — the culprit was Brett Kavanaugh. The same Brett Kavanaugh who is now a federal judge who has been nominated to the Supreme Court.

Ford was authentic, believable and effective in her testimony Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Only partisan Republicans, acting out of reflex, would say otherwise.

But I also found Kavanaugh authentic, believable and effective — especially when he talked about the enormous cost to loved ones, including his daughters, and how his family had been “destroyed” by these accusations and the spiteful way in which they were handled by members of the committee. Only partisan Democrats, acting out of reflex, could not see that.

This is not a repeat of what happened in the fall of 1991. In the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, you had to believe one narrative or the other. Either Thomas was obsessed with Hill, or Hill was obsessed with Thomas. I believed Hill.

This is not that. I believe — and I think many Americans now believe — that both Ford and Kavanaugh are telling their truth as they know it, and that each of these individuals has paid a high price for doing so.

What a disgusting system we have for confirming judges to the federal bench, including these high-stakes confirmation battles for seats on the Supreme Court.

Advise and consent has now degenerated into horrify and disgust, or insult and attack, or seek and destroy. More and more, it’s become painfully clear — no matter who is president, which party controls the Senate, and who sits on the Judiciary Committee — that the very last thing this process is about is the nominee.

My wife, who is foreign-born, is still learning about our system, and I sometimes have trouble explaining it to her. This was one of those times.

“You mean this whole thing isn’t about figuring out the truth and finally knowing what really happened?” she asked.

She believes Ford, and only Ford. She thinks Kavanaugh is lying to save himself, and that women don’t forget details of a sexual assault.

No, I told her, truth is not on the menu in these hearings. Elections have consequences. Presidents pick judicial nominees, and, usually, they’re confirmed. These hearings are mostly about giving senators a chance to preen, pontificate and perform. They get to have their “Spartacus” moments and collect “b-roll” footage that they can use to raise money and create campaign commercials when they compete for re-election or run for president.

“Oh, c’mon! Are you kidding me?” she exclaimed. Then she threw up her arms and stormed out of the room.

Given the salacious allegations leading up to these hearings, I assumed the program would be rated “TV-MA” — for mature audiences only.

But having binged on the hearings and watched what was probably an unhealthy amount of the proceedings, I would have labeled the spectacle “TV-BS” — for broken system.

What did you think I meant?

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Email: ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

The death of DACA, revisited

Recently, I wrote a provocative column for USA Today that made a lot of sense but made almost no one happy.

In it, I revealed myself to be a NeverTrumper who was hoping the first term would be the last, and who would welcome impeachment. That part angered the right.

But then I listed 20 items — of both style and substance — that President Trump had done right in his first 20 months in office. That part angered the left.

One of the more controversial items on the list went like this. Trump was right to:

“Refocus debate on immigration reform when he ended DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and tried to force Congress to confront the issue of what to do with the Dreamers.”

A week after the column ran, I was in Colorado for a speech at Colorado Mesa University. Members of the community were invited to attend, and a well-meaning but not well-informed white liberal immigration lawyer did.

During the question and answer session, the lawyer went to a microphone with a copy of the column in hand. Then he fired off three questions: What on Earth was I thinking? And since I am often identified as the most widely-read Latino columnist in America, didn’t I see how dangerous it was for me to write such a thing? And, finally, what would I say to a Dreamer to explain to him or her why I thought Trump was right to end DACA a little more than a year ago, a move that put many of their compadres at risk of deportation?

Once you brush aside the condescension of a white liberal lecturing a Mexican-American about what’s best for undocumented immigrants in the United States — most of whom are Latino, you wind up with good questions.

And here is how I answered them.

First, I said, I don’t explain anything to anyone, and that includes Dreamers. If they don’t like what I wrote, or if they have a different opinion, then they are free to write their own columns and express their own opinions. And many do write op-eds or appear on cable shows or write books or give speeches. This population of young people lacks legal status, but it certainly doesn’t lack media attention or a microphone. I don’t work for them, and it’s not essential that they always agree with me.

Second, I said, as someone who has been writing about immigration for 30 years — longer than many Dreamers have been living in this country — I would imagine that I know more about DACA and how it impacts the immigration debate than most people in the media and most Dreamers. And what I know leads me to oppose DACA, as a temporary band-aid over a bullet wound that President Obama offered instead of a permanent fix that couldn’t be yanked away on a political whim.

Moreover, given that Obama required DACA recipients to turn themselves into law enforcement, get fingerprinted and photographed, and hand over their home address where immigration agents could find not only them but also their undocumented parents and siblings, DACA was a treat but a trap. Anyone who would like to argue otherwise, please be my guest. You can start by explaining the benefits of Donald Trump now having in his possession the home addresses of nearly 700,000 Dreamers.

Third, I said, if Obama had the Constitutional right to start DACA, it’s hard to argue that Trump didn’t have the Constitutional right to end it. The immigration issue always belonged at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and Congress can’t run away from it anymore. Trump killing DACA forced Congress to confront this important but thorny issue, even if lawmakers then proceeded to do so poorly. Pressure is a good thing in politics, and no good comes from the executive branch releasing the pressure on Congress to fix the immigration system by simply kicking the can down the road and extending DACA in perpetuity.

That’s pretty much what I would tell Dreamers about why Trump was right to end DACA, even if the outcome makes them feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.

And, while we’re on this topic, I would add a few more items for Dreamers. I would tell them that in politics, things aren’t always what they appear to be; that you can, in the end, only count on yourselves; that you should work with everyone but trust no one; that you should ask questions, be skeptical of those in power, and not just take what’s given to you out of desperation or a misplaced sense of party loyalty.

Trump may have ended DACA for all the wrong reasons, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do. And we shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Like life, confirmation process unfair

SAN DIEGO — Let’s be fair. The last thing the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process has been about over the past week is fairness.

The process has been dark, dirty and dysfunctional. Worst of all, it has also been profoundly unfair — and to more than one person.

A lot of folks have talked about the idea of fairness since Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct in an incident that allegedly occurred more than three decades ago when the Supreme Court nominee and the alleged victim were both in their teens.

Attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who brought the accusation, had said that their client would address the Senate Judiciary Committee out of a sense of civic duty.

That narrative barely survived one news cycle. The story then became that Ford would not testify until the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an inquiry.

But an inquiry into what? Certainly not what may or may not have happened in the 1980s. That’s ridiculous, especially since no federal crime was involved. Surely what some Democrats are hoping for is that Kavanaugh speaks to investigators and to the Senate committee — and that the statements don’t match.

So instead of investigating a crime, the real objective would be to manufacture one.

When Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa — who had invited Ford to address the panel — refused to go along with the call for an FBI investigation and set a deadline for the accuser to confirm her testimony, her lawyers said rushing the process was unfair.

“The committee’s stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation,” said attorney Lisa Banks.

If Ford doesn’t testify, and simply leaves her disturbing accusation out there with no accountability — like, oh, say an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times — this would be unfair to the nominee. So says a moderate Republican senator whose vote could be crucial.

“I think it’s not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her not to come forward and testify,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in a radio interview.

And, if Ford stands up the Senate, it won’t be fair to those Republicans who stuck their necks out and asked that she be invited to testify. Besides Collins, this group includes Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Of course, it’s also not fair to Ford that — after she made clear in the letter she wrote to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California lodging the accusation against Kavanaugh that she did not want to be identified — her name was leaked to the media.

None of this is fair to Kavanaugh — not to mention his wife, daughters and parents. What should have been a beautiful moment for that family has been marred by what seems to be a partisan attempt at character assassination by Democrats.

As for Ford, it’s fair to remind her of the stakes. If she doesn’t testify, her entire story will never come out. She’ll essentially go back to being “anonymous.”

Once again, the American people are stuck in the middle.

Of course, there are always going to be the partisans who have the miraculous ability to know exactly what happened more than 30 years ago, without hearing testimony from anyone. They’ve already made up their minds.

But many of us — perhaps most of us — don’t know whom to believe. We want to be fair to both the accuser and the accused.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is picking up on that with the groups he surveys.

“The American people believe in fairness,” Luntz told Fox News’ host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday. “And they believe that everyone deserves their day in court.”

But, Luntz added, many wonder just how far we are willing to go back into people’s lives to discern what kind of human beings they are today. He found a lot of support for the idea that judging someone for something that may have happened long ago is not fair.

Given that Americans just celebrated Constitution Day and the 231st birthday of our nation’s founding document, you had better believe that none of this is fair to the Framers. When they entrusted the Senate with the power to advise and consent, this could not have been what they had in mind.


Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through podcast apps.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

A crusade against diversity

I’m not one to back down from a challenge from the likes of Tucker Carlson.

The Southern native has spent much of his life on the East Coast, most of all Washington, D.C. I’ve known him for 20 years, since he wore a bow tie and was considered a moderate who supported immigration and had no beef with multiculturalism.

He was regarded by fellow Beltway journalists as an excellent magazine writer, and a thoughtful chronicler of politics and culture.

That was then, however. The new Tucker — the one with a primetime show on Fox News, a two-book deal worth $9 million, more than 2 million Twitter followers, and about 2.7 million nightly viewers — is not exactly kinder and gentler than the old one.

Quite the opposite. He has become mean, snide, condescending, and hostile to immigration. He most certainly does not see people of different colors and cultures as his equal, and he is not shy about showing it. Most of all, he enjoys tackling sacred cows — then killing and grilling them.

Recently, Carlson — who, it has been shown by media critics and civil rights groups alike, has a strong following among white supremacists — questioned the value of diversity.

Few cows are more sacred. Diversity is something pursued by everyone from the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to Ivy League admissions officers to government recruiters.

In fact, how’s this for a small world? Achieving diversity in its workforce is also a stated objective of 21st Century Fox, the global media company that owns Fox News and pays Carlson’s multimillion-dollar annual salary.

Still, when it comes to pushing racial hot buttons, it often seems as if Carlson can’t control himself. Thus, he mused:

How, precisely, is diversity our strength? Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are? Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.

Very well. I can be both specific and honest.

First, I have to challenge the ludicrous suggestion that diversity is — for Americans — “our new national motto.” Americans have many national mottos.

We have the one that the Founders left us: “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many, One”). And the one that defines how we feel about immigrants: “There Goes the Neighborhood.” And the one that springs from a nation of victims: “Call My Lawyer!”

Meanwhile, diversity is a desirable goal and a widely acknowledged asset. But it is not a motto, national or otherwise.

Second, I can, in fact, think of many institutions that are diverse and yet quite cohesive. Not in the phony contrived sense that Carlson puts forth — “the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are.” The less of this, the more of that. But plenty diverse and still cohesive.

Yes, in fact, it is true in marriage; if it’s really the case that opposites attract. And it’s also true in the military; the rank-and-file include people of all races and backgrounds, who are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

And the fact that members of this group are different doesn’t make it any less cohesive. They still come together as one — around their love of country, commitment to service, and sense of duty.

Also, while I’m touched that Carlson cares so much about whether I get along with my neighbors and co-workers — even if we speak different languages and come from different cultures — he needn’t worry. We all get along fine. We do understand one another, and we have many shared common values — like family, work, sacrifice, faith, patriotism, education, and more.

Finally, America is a magical place where people find commonality even while relishing their diversity. My college roommate — a Connecticut Yankee, Italian-American, and Catholic — told me a story about taking Italian cookies to school for “ethnic day” and being embarrassed that they did not look more like mainstream cookies.

The story rang a bell, because many years earlier my parents had — in Central California — experienced the same discomfort whenever they took tacos to school for lunch.

You see, our differences don’t get in the way of our similarities. Our differences are our similarities.

I was blessed to grow up in a small farm town with friends who were Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Armenian, Portuguese, Jewish, Irish, German, Italian, Filipino, Swedish, and Mexican.

I learned about their cultures, and they learned about mine. Everyone got along. There was no cultural conflict or ethnic strife. And from that, I’d like to think, came empathy and the ability to see things from the point of view of a friend or neighbor.

In fact, I see this dynamic every day in my work. For instance, if I write a column about farming and the labor shortage and include a few lines about the kind of wages farmworkers are typically paid these days, there is going to be a gap in understanding between those who come from the city and others who were raised in the country.

It’s extremely useful to able to communicate with both camps, and you’re only able to do that if you take the time to understand different types of people.

Finally, all of his recent crusading against diversity makes me wonder what Carlson’s day-to-day reality is like. Does he surround himself only with people who look, think, act, and speak like he does? If so, I feel sorry for him. That’s no way to grow, no way to learn.

We all need to challenge ourselves by going outside our comfort zones now and then and exposing ourselves to opinions different from our own. Otherwise, we’ll become soft and predictable and not very bright — suitable for no other employment than, perhaps, a hosting gig on Fox News.

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Slow #MeToo down: Julie Chen Moonves isn’t accountable for her husband

Women have pressured Julie Chen Moonves over her husband, but she didn’t do anything wrong. When did we start punishing women for their husbands?


Time to set some boundaries.

Public figures are not public property. And while they live their lives in the public eye, there are still things that are none of the public’s business. Every human being deserves some degree of privacy, and there is nothing more private than family.

This includes the relationship between spouses. Most of what goes on between a husband and a wife is their business, and no one else’s.

Remember what defenders of President Bill Clinton said in the late 1990s after he acknowledged an improper “relationship” with a former White House intern? The Democrats’ talking point was: “If Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a problem with it, why should voters?”

But that was before the #MeToo movement, which doesn’t know when to quit.

Sean Penn would probably agree with that last part. During a recent interview on NBC’s “Today,” the actor said that much of the #MeToo movement is “too black and white,” and that “it’s really good to just slow down.”

Others’ marriages are none of our business

Now what should go without saying must be said: It is none of your business, none of my business and certainly none of the business of the women on ABC’s “The View” whether Julie Chen Moonves — a co-host of CBS’ rival show, “The Talk” — is standing by her husband, Les Moonves, the disgraced former chairman and CEO of CBS Corp.

Media observers noticed when Chen Moonves — who has long identified herself simply as “Julie Chen” — recently used her full name in an apparent show of marital solidarity. Some wondered whether the co-host could still do her job.

“I think it’s going to be hard for her to go back to ‘The Talk,’ ” said Joy Behar, co-host of “The View.” “What topics can they do? They can’t talk about the #MeToo movement without her coming clean about her husband.”

Foul-mouthed comedian Kathy Griffin was more blunt. In a tweet, she shared a message that she claimed to have recently sent Chen Moonves. It went like this: “F— you and your misogynistic husband. You two deserve each other. …Bye b–ch.”

Now Chen Moonves has quit her job at “The Talk,” saying in a video statement that right now, she needs to “spend more time at home with my husband and our young son.”

The departure should please those who thought it was inappropriate for a woman to participate in a talk show aimed at women when her husband is accused of assaulting women.

Notice I said that it is her husband, the former network chief, who faces accusations. Not her. Chen Moonves is her own person, with her own life and career.

Why should she be punished, or pressured to do anything, because of what her husband stands accused of? Shouldn’t she be allowed to have a zone of privacy around her marriage — and be able to separate her private life from her public one?

Should women be defined by their husbands?

That might be too much to ask when you’re the one accused of misconduct. Consider the spectacle surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who stands accused of an act of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place more than 30 years ago. Even if Kavanaugh is innocent, he cannot hope to have a protective barrier of privacy around his family.

But, again, what misconduct has Chen Moonves been accused of?

Finally, I have to wonder: Is this where the feminist movement has taken us after more than half a century? I have two daughters. I always thought those who wanted to empower women, push for equal rights, battle wage inequality, and ensure that girls have the same opportunities as boys also believed that women shouldn’t be defined by their husbands.

Now some of those same people are eager to hold a woman accountable for her husband’s behavior. Gosh, that was a short ride.

I’ve been married for 15 years this week, and there are still times when I feel like I don’t understand the rules. Now it seems the rest of society doesn’t either.

We have enough respect for the martial bond to not compel a wife to testify against her husband in a court of law. But we reserve the right to bully, in the court of public opinion, a wife who stands by her husband?

Let’s give women like Julie Chen Moonves some space. Most of us don’t have any idea what they’re going through.

Besides, Americans have bigger problems. We’re a mess. Social skills are out the window. We’re in each other’s faces. We impugn each other’s motives, think ourselves superior to everyone else, and put tremendous stock in our own opinion while dismissing opposing ones.

No wonder we so often step over the line. More and more these days, as we’re reminded by the case of Julie Chen Moonves, we don’t even know where the line is.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and host of a daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation.”  Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

If you’re innocent, Judge Kavanaugh, it’s time for you to holler

SAN DIEGO – And to think, up until last week, I would have said that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was painfully boring with a confirmation process to match.

What do I know? Scandals are never boring. Still, as a proud American who hates to see our institutions sullied, give me boring any day.

The Kavanaugh proceedings have taken a detour into the sewer, which explains the stench.

Senate Democrats are trying to take out this nominee, for the unpardonable sin of having been nominated by President Trump. And a lot of what has happened over the past several days does not make their side look pure and wholesome.

Consider:

  • The fact that the accusation of sexual misconduct was initially made anonymously.
  • The fact that Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — who learned of the allegation several weeks ago — never mentioned it during the hearings or in a private meeting with Kavanaugh.
  • The fact that the man who was reportedly with Kavanaugh during this alleged assault says it never happened, and that he never witnessed the nominee being disrespectful to women.

None of this helps the Democrats in their crusade to kill the Kavanaugh confirmation by any means necessary.

To get here, we took a dark and dangerous road.

But here we are nonetheless. And, just days before the scheduled Senate vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, we’re facing a barrage of questions. For instance, do we believe what she said, or what he said?

And: Even if Kavanaugh did — as a 17-year-old who had too much to drink — everything that she said, should it doom Kavanaugh’s nomination?

And also: What about that article of faith among liberals that says people can change?

Barack Obama admitted to using cocaine. George W. Bush had a drinking problem. Bill Clinton said he smoked marijuana but apparently incompetently since he claims he didn’t inhale.

American voters gave them all a second chance — and, ultimately, two terms in office.

I could list the moral failings of the current president that his supporters — including on the religious right — are all too willing to forgive, but I don’t have the word space.

Which brings us to this question: Is the moral standard for a Supreme Court justice higher than it is for the leader of the free world?

And this one: What’s the standard for a U.S. senator? The late Edward Kennedy left the scene of a car crash off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, where a young woman died. Kennedy served for another 40 years.

Why? Because, as they say on the left, people change.

But apparently not Supreme Court nominees put up by Republicans. They aren’t people, too?

And yet, at the same time, Kavanaugh has not done himself any favors with the way he has responded to his name being dragged through the mud. How he reacts now, as a grown man, says more about his character than what he may have done as a teenager. So far, not so good.

The accuser is Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who says that she recently passed a lie-detector test about the incident and that she told a marriage counselor about it in 2012, though she didn’t mention Kavanaugh by name back then.

Why would she? How many people knew who Brett Kavanaugh was in 2012?

There is no upside for Ford. Whether the allegation is true or not, her life will never be the same. Ask Anita Hill.

To all this, Kavanaugh says coolly: It never happened. That’s it.

His handlers have also released a letter signed by 65 women who claim that they knew the nominee in high school and he never behaved this way.

The letter is a ridiculous tactic that proves absolutely nothing, by the way, except perhaps that Kavanaugh didn’t behave badly with any of those 65 women.

The nominee must do better. If you’re innocent, you don’t parse your words. You holler! It’s time for a Clarence Thomas “high-tech lynching” moment where Kavanaugh goes back before the Senate Judiciary Committee — as he is scheduled to do on Monday, along with Ford — and says that, as the father of two young girls, he is outraged that the opposition would sink this low. This is your name, Judge. Let’s hear the holler.

Otherwise, I’ll be inclined — along with what I’m sure will be many other Americans — to discount what he said and believe what she said.


Ruben Navarrette has a daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” and may be contacted at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns

Educational competition

Back to school time. And for today’s parents, that means facing more choices than a Las Vegas buffet.

I know this menu. My wife and I have loaded up our plates with a sample of everything.

By contrast, I can’t help but think back to how simple things must have been for my parents’ generation. When I went to elementary and intermediate school in the 1970s, my classmates and I walked or rode our bikes to the neighborhood public school.

In my hometown in the farm country of Central California, you might now and then run across a young person who went to private school — usually a Catholic school.

Yet, for the most part, just one generation ago, the public school monopoly was the only game in town.

Today, the world of K-12 education is completely different from what it used to be. Parents have choices, lots of choices.

There are still private schools, but not all of them are parochial. There are also specialized schools for children with learning differences like dyslexia.

For the last 25 years, there have also been charter schools, a kind of hybrid between public-private schools. They get money from the state, so they run on public tax dollars. But they have more autonomy than traditional public schools, which means they can experiment with different types of instruction.

And, in the last two decades, there has been an increase in the number of students who are homeschooled. Since 1993, homeschooling has been legal in all 50 states. Much of the early interest came from Christian fundamentalist parents seeking to shield their children from public school textbooks and curriculum that offended their religious sensibilities.

Nowadays, slightly more than 3 percent of the school-age population is homeschooled. Yet there is still a lot of ignorance about the concept. It does not always mean a student sitting with a parent at the dinner table, with an open textbook. There are homeschool associations, and brick-and-mortar buildings with teachers where students go a few days a week in between home study.

And, I have learned, parents choose homeschooling for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes, it is to avoid bullying or to protect a child who may appear socially awkward. Sometimes, it’s to avoid the constant testing in public schools, or give children more time to pursue sports and other extracurricular activities. Or maybe it’s because parents want students to learn the basics but also have more time for electives like music and debate, which have sometimes been removed from the public-school curriculum.

Likewise, individual states have built reputations for being either a good or bad place to homeschool children; that is, some states make it easy for parents to homeschool their children, others not so much. For states like California, with high per-student expenditures, it’s a good deal financially since parents get to spend on instruction — in their child’s name — roughly a quarter of the funding that would normally go to a public school.

In fact, these days, parents have so many choices that it can be confusing. Every parent wants what is best for his or her child, but it’s hard to know exactly what that is.

As if that were not maddening enough, parents who have more than one child — and who are paying attention — will note that each of them is different. They may have different styles of learning and process information in unique ways.

That’s how it is in our family. So, this year, our educational choices are a smorgasbord.

My children — ages 9, 11, 13 — went to a Montessori charter school from kindergarten to 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 7th grade.

Now my two girls are being homeschooled by my wife — a Montessori-trained educator and licensed language therapist — and the teachers who work at a homeschool charter school. Both my daughters are self-starters with enough discipline to work in their home classroom, neighborhood library, or school classroom.

My son was supposed to be homeschooled, as well. But, at the last minute, he opted for public school. He is now one of about 1,000 pre-teens at his middle school moving between eight periods a day. It seems like a good fit, since he needs rules, deadlines, structure, and set expectations. Public school gives him that.

Competition is a good thing. It’s true in business. And it’s true in education. The public schools in America have run the board for too long, unchallenged. We’ve let bureaucrats, administrators and teachers’ unions create a system of low accountability that exists chiefly for the benefit of adults who work in it.

Many parents are catching on, and voting with their feet by taking their children elsewhere. The market speaks.

You would think that those who, every day, teach lessons would be quicker to learn theirs.

Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA TodayBoard of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

Posted by Ruben Navarrette in Columns