Set Your Proton Packs to Ridicule: The First Four Years of Jayblog

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I remember a few years ago Dan Lips asked me if I would ever consider blogging. My reaction was something along the lines of “Naaaah, why would I want to do that?”

Four years in now, it is hard to imagine doing policy work without blogging. Blogging is a great way to test-drive ideas, get feedback, and have fun doing it. Nothing else moves with the speed of the modern conversation.

The story of this blog can be told using images as guideposts. Some images are associated not with a single post but rather a series of posts, starting with this one:

Blogs of course are the media equivalent of a pea-shooter, but with a careful aim you can put out an eye here and there.

The finest hour of the JPGB, in my opinion, came when Senator Durbin accepted marching orders from the NEA and attempted to pillow smother the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The strategy was to not reauthorize the law, and not to allow new students to enter the program, killing it by attrition. Similar to the British strategy to give arms to bloodthirsty loyalist hillbillies in the American South during the Revolutionary War, this strategy seemed shrewd at the time but backfired badly.

Once the dirty work was (temporarily) done, the Department of Education made a clumsy attempt to deep six the Congressionally mandated program evaluation by releasing it on a Friday with a spin doctored press release. That probably seemed like a great idea at the time as well.

One problem- the study itself was written in English and available online, and Jay reads English and blogs. Jay read the study and leapt into the fray, dubbing the incident “the Friday Night Massacre.” The Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post made inquiries regarding the handling of the study and let’s just say that the administration’s reaction subtracted from their already waning credibility on the matter.

From there, things just kind of got better and better. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages administered regular beat-downs from both the left and the right. NRO’s Jim Geraghty summed up the Obama’s new position on D.C. vouchers:

We know our stance is indefensible; please make this issue go away.”

Eventually President Obama made the issue go away by reauthorizing the program in a budget deal, the best strategic course after bumbling into a sideshow that is costing more than it was worth. Many people deserve credit for saving the program, and Jay is one of them.

In the end, the underdogs won the debate in resounding fashion, kind of like this:

The next image is this one:

Greg’s bet with Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews proved to be great fun. Mathews wrote a piece opining that private choice was simply too politically difficult so he was sticking to charter schools.

Greg bet Mathews dinner that ten legislative chambers would pass either expansions or new choice programs in 2011.

Being a good sport, Greg raised the bar for himself to 7 enactments rather than legislative chambers when he blasted past 10 chambers in 3.6 seconds or so.

Greg ran up the score like John Heisman in 2011. I’m not sure whether he tripled up on Mathews in the end or not. He probably narrowly missed doing so, but the momentum carried over to 2012. So far we have a new tax credit program in Virginia, a tax-credit expansion in Arizona, a tax-credit expansion in Florida, and a major new voucher program in Louisiana. Greg’s original 2011 bet has already been exceeded in 2012, and even his higher bar bet of 7 enactments isn’t inconceivable this year. I now think of Greg’s original bet as the over/under for a good/bad year for the parental choice movement.

No word yet on where Mathews took Greg for dinner nor how much effort it took not to gloat.

Big Think Pieces

I like Greg’s listing of favorite Big-Think pieces, and there are some common threads between them. Greg for instance did an outstanding job laying out why most education reform efforts tend to go nowhere under the current system.

My favorite Jay Big Thinker came when Goldstein-Gone-Wild asked Jay what he would do if he ran the Gates Foundation in the comments section. Jay replied: build new, don’t reform old. If someone appointed me King, I’d make that post required reading for philanthropists as my first official act.

My second official act would probably involve a redirected asteroid and College Station Texas. If they promised to stop the belly aching about the Longhorn Network, I could be persuaded to allow an evacuation.

The Big Thinkers I had the most fun writing both came early in the blog: The Way of the Future in American Schooling and Indiana Jones and the Teacher Quality Crusade. Reasoning by pop-culture analogy got to be a fun habit, which leads us to…


A friend of mine once asked me if I had ever noticed that people tend to think of people just to the left of them as communists, and people just to the right of them as fascists. Only the self stands in exactly the correct spot of thoughtful perfection.

I’ve always kept this jest in mind as a pretty powerful argument in favor of being broad-minded and open to the possibility of needing to perform an occassional mental update.

Nevertheless, the opportunity to unleash a good parody now and then certainly can liven up an otherwise dry discussion.

For instance, the desirable degree of state oversight of a private school choice program is an important topic, but usually a bit on the dry side. Okay, more than a bit.

Despite the fact that I have more than a little sympathy for the point of view parodied, I never laughed so hard at a blog post as I did with with Greg’s AWWWW FREAKOUT!!!  post regarding attacks from the Cato Institute on the new Indiana voucher program.

No, I take it back-Greg’s post on the UFT Card Check, while not a parody itself (more like the documentary of the UFT performing an unintentional self-parody) was the inspiration of so many lampoons that it has to stand as the funniest post of the first four years. Jay’s Fordham Drinking is up there as well.

Of the lampoons I have written, Little Ramona’s Gone Hillbilly Nuts, AFT suggests LBO for Public Schools and JK Rowling: The Jeb Bush of NEPC’s Florida Fantasy were the most fun to write.

What’s Next?

Facing a cannon barrage from a gigantic Turkish army, Baron Munchausen declared to his bedraggled henchmen “They are inviting us to defeat them! We must oblige them!”

No one knows what will happen around the next bend, but my advice is to grab your pea-shooter and take aim. It’s been a blast for us so far, and it isn’t like the bad guys show any sign of slowing the rate of demonstrably false claims.

3 Responses to Set Your Proton Packs to Ridicule: The First Four Years of Jayblog

  1. Mike McShane says:

    That’s how you do it! That’s how you debate!

    The world needs more well-timed Old School references. I think the Frank-as-Mascot “WE DON’T NEED ANYBODY FREAKING OUT” would have also worked for the Cato Institute.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Old School is a treasure trove. I carry the scene where Frank explains to his future frat-brothers that he wasn’t going to drink because of his plans to go to Home Depot and Bed Bath and Beyond the next day around with me like a hilarious psychic wound.

    • Mike McShane says:

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Weensey, it wasn’t supposed to go down like that” as a form of apology

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