First, I think that my and Yglesias's disagreement may be based at least in part on language, that is, lack of a shared interpretation of the terms we're using. He said "modes of behavior" and "conduct." I said "values." Then he said "norms." I see modes of behavior and conduct as growing from the values one holds as well as occurring in response to conditions. I see a norm as a standard of behavior. I acknowledge that Yglesias and others may have a different understanding of these terms and that it would be helpful if we arrived at a uniform understanding of them.
Otherwise, I don't see these lines as being subject to to much interpretation:
"Look. Children are children. They’re kids. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re irresponsible, they’re impulsive. They need to be taught. They learn from their parents and their peers and their peers’ parents. And if they’re parents have low levels of education and labor force success and so do all their friends’ parents and all their parents’ friends well then of course they’ll benefit from certain kinds of explicit instruction that middle class children don’t need."
No one is here is saying that kids don't need to be taught; rather, we are disagreeing about what they need to be taught. He is advocating for "bourgeois modes of behavior" (or conduct or norms), and I think we should focus on content and curriculum.
Furthermore, his chain of logic seems to be: Kids in general are irresponsible and impulsive. Middle class people are responsible and patient and teach their kids how to be the same. Poor people are not responsible and patient and that's why they have low levels of education and lack of "labor force success." Since poor parents don't teach their kids such norms or patterns of behavior, non-poor kids can teach poor kids this instead and in their absence, schools such as KIPP or others that adopt the No Excuses model can teach them this.
When he says "certain kinds of explicit instruction" I hear "work ethic" and "valuing education." His implication is that certain kinds of "explicit instruction" help make up for this lack of values. Certainly, at least some poor kids have parents who aren't educated, don't have steady jobs, lack a work ethic, and don't value education. However at least some middle class and rich people with children also aren't particularly educated, don't have steady jobs, lack a work ethic, and don't value education.
I am middle class. Yes, I was born into a family with bourgeois modes of behavior, but mostly I was born into the conditions of privilege that allowed me the luxury of becoming educated. I am white, I lived in a safe neighborhood, had great healthcare, ate nutritious meals regularly, experienced no childhood traumas, had two professionally employed parents with advanced degrees whose jobs enabled them to be involved in my education and to impart their cultural capital to me.
(At this point, we also need to stop for a minute and clarify what we mean by "value education." Education for education's sake? Education to be a well-rounded person? An informed citizen? Education towards getting a job? Furthermore, what does it mean to be an educated American? Being educated enough to get a job? Being educated enough to have an intellectual life? A little of both? I believe there is some core knowledge and basic skills that we as Americans should all have. Beyond that, being "educated" can take many different forms.)
Undoubtedly, kids learn norms and behaviors in school from one another--that's part of going to school. The value attached to these norms and behaviors all depends on, well, what each individual values. That being acknowledged, it's not my job as a public school teacher to teach social values beyond, say, teaching students how to get along, and how to peacefully resolve disputes that might arise in my classroom. Rather, it's my job to provide an education. Now, I do need to teach the values or habits of a good student, for example, completing assignments in a timely and comprehensive manner, reading as much and as often as possible, participating respectfully in class discussions, listening to teachers and classmates, coming to class on time, not plagiarizing or cheating, and I have no doubt that KIPP teaches their kids to have the habits of good students. But ultimately, to get students to practice these habits, I need to show them the value of what I'm teaching and that I value their time and effort.
I am not going to tell my teenage students that it would be wrong for them to have a baby at the age of sixteen; that's none of my business. Again, it's my job to educate my teenage students and not to express judgement of their values or culture. I did have some colleagues who made it a point not to acknowledge their students' babies or to fawn over them at all, but I always made sure to congratulate them and support them once the decision was made. Okay, you're a mother now and yes, being a mother is special. Now, how can I help you succeed academically while you're a parent? Likewise, as a civics teacher, it's not my job to teach which political party to join. Rather, it's my job to teach my students about how our political system works and about the duties of citizens in a democratic society.
Ultimately, "explicit instruction" in values or norms doesn't get you very far (ask people who teach ethics classes to MBA's). Just like you can't really teach kids to be good readers by teaching reading strategies, you can't teach kids to value education by telling them to value education. In order to get kids to to be stronger readers, you have to teach them about the content they're going to read about and then have them read developmentally appropriate texts about the content. Similarly, in order to get kids to value education, you have to show them how much you love knowledge, that it's interesting and that it's essential, and then you have to educate them. This should be true no matter who is being taught.
If rich content and practical skills are being taught while students are wearing uniforms or while students are instructed to walk silently in the halls, as long as such an environment isn't excessively rigid, what do I care? Structure is necessary to get kids ready to listen, support in the form of wrap-around services and some intensive academic instruction in deficient areas will help ensure they stay in a place to listen, but if you want them to really engage, you have teach them interesting and vital content. With a narrower, test-based curriculum and excessive teaching of skills such as reading strategies in charter and traditional, poor and middle class schools alike (though granted the lower the test scores, generally the more draconian and narrow the approach), no one is getting the content knowledge they like or the practical skills they need.
Today's commentators on everything are invariably experts on nothing. Yglesisas' writing on education (I can't speak to his expertise on other matters) show he's is no different. He may be smart but he has a very superficial knowledge of how education works. When Yglesias, or anyone else like him, gestures vaguely at ideas about education reform, I'd probably do better to ignore them and respect that they're only doing their job. But I can't agree that this is how to have a serious conversation about education, nor can I pretend that it's a way to accurately inform the public of the issues in education and of their complexity. Seriously.