THE DANGERS OF DISINFORMATION

“Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.”
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

“We are, for better or worse, the body of our republic. And we need to listen to it, to hear – beyond the pain and anger and fear, beyond the decrees and policies and the eddying of public sentiments and resentments, beyond the bombast and the rhetoric – the sound (faint at times, stronger at others) of a heartbeat going on.”
David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present

 

Last Friday I wrote about the TNEd Report turning their respected platform over to retired school board member Will Pinkston to use to further his personal vendetta against MNPS interim-director Adrienne Battle.  Dr. Battle is guilty of two unforgivable sins in Pinkston’s world – not following directions and expunging his loyal minions from the central office ranks. As a result, she is worthy of the full bore of his attacks.  The TNEd Report screed was just the latest in a series that began shortly after she hired her leadership team, a roster that failed to garner the Lil’ Trump stamp of approval and as a result, provoked his smear campaign.

I don’t want to spend to much time discussing Pinkston’s latest blog post, but I think there remains a couple things that do need to be said.

The first being that TNEd Report’s printing of Pinkston’s words lines up with both the history of the respected blog and owner Andy Spear’s personal philosophy. Spears has always made room for other voices within his platform and publishing has never meant endorsing. For that he deserves accolades.

Spear’s focus is primarily on state issues, and while he keeps abreast of MNPS issues, there is no way that he can provide the exceptional state coverage he does while fact-checking every voice out of Nashville.

As a former school board member, Pinkston still enjoys a reputation as an authority on Nashville school issues among the few he hasn’t burned with manifestations of his narcissism. The story that he brought to Spears is a believable one based on past history in Nashville. As a professional courtesy, rooted in a shared history, it is not unexpected that the TNEd Report would agree to share Pinkston’s fabrication. Therein though lies the danger and the second point I’d like to explore.

We live in an age where policy discussions are frequently muddied and as a result, facts are played with rather loosely. This playing loosely with facts is something that the reform movement has really capitalized on, but those who defend public schools have not been without sin either. That has been to the detriment of all of us.

Over the last several decades the interest in public education has grown ten-fold. Parents today know more than in the past and as a result, they want to know more. This has led to a rise in the ranks of national writers focusing on education policy.

On the side of reform, you have your Citizen Stewart, Chester Finn Jr, Andy Smarick, and Michael Petrilli to name a few. On the other side, Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene, Steven Singer, and Jeff Bryant are some of the leading names.  I know I’m failing to mention some vital voices, but in the interest of brevity, those names will have to serve as a jumping-off point.

Now I believe every one of the aforementioned has a deep concern for the children of America and comes to the discussion with intentions seeped in altruism. But let’s also not forget for them to do what they do, they need a business model, one that relies on an incredible amount of content in order to thrive. All of our cited folks are prolific writers, but in order to flesh things out they need help, they need local writers.

I’ve always said that advocating for education policy is like playing three-level chess – the federal, the state, and the local. All are independent entities that are also interdependent on each other, as a result, issues per region often share traits with each other, yet they are also vastly different.

For example, the charter school conversation in Tennessee looks a whole different than it does in Ohio. The conversation between New York City and Nashville shares similar elements, but is still vastly different despite being influence by national elements. In order to stay relevant, a national writer needs to be familiar and able to comment on all three levels across the country. That’s a difficult task.

As a result, they tend to depend on local writers that they’ve come to trust. There is no way that a national writer can vet every single local story in order to attest to its veracity, so they reprint stories with the hope that they are in fact as they appear. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.

Over the last 9 months – since Dr. Joseph’s departure – I’ve grown to really appreciate the difficulty in establishing whether stories are a result of bad policy or rather that they are an extension of past bad relationships. Spend some time studying MNPS and you’ll be amazed at the number of people related to other educators, as well as the number of individuals of shared history – some probably professionally inappropriate. Separating the personal from the professional can get pretty difficult at times.

That’s why I spend as much time talking to as many educators as I possibly can, and I’m blessed that many of y’all trust me. I don’t take that lightly. Without that trust, this undertaking is a non-sequitor.

To replicate what I do on a national level is, like I said, nearly impossible. That’s why at times national writers replicate stories that are not what they seem. This week Peter Greene reprinted the TNEd Report piece as a recommended reading. Earlier in the month, Diane Ravitch reprinted another of Pinkston’s missives. These are just two examples, and while they come from writers on the public school defender side, don’t think for a minute that the ed reform crowd is without guilt. Both sides use local stories to feed their narrative, sometimes at the expense of reality.

Dr. Battle is in the middle of a search for the job as the permanent director of schools. Local opinion, sans fact, that she is a “Charter Scool” enabler, could have a negative impact on her securing that position. It could also open the door to a less qualified candidate receiving the nod. A nationally reprinted tale has the potential to impact, negatively or positively, the applicants the job attracts. The unintentional can be just as impactful as the intentional.

If it’s Nashville’s true commitment to have the absolute best director of schools, all candidates have to be evaluated based on proven facts, not supposition and innuendo. The same holds true for policy.

There are some extremely important conversations coming down the pike for Nashville Schools. The subject of which starts with, who will lead the district but will quickly lead to decisions about teacher compensation, discipline, and consolidation of schools, just to name a few. If we are to truly do what is best for students and families, those conversations have to be rooted in fact. That can’t happen if we allow the conversation to be hijacked by personal agendas.

Pinkston is the worst offender, but not the sole offender. We spend so much time holding the other side accountable, without applying the same degree of diligence to our own side. A sharing of ideas is not necessarily a basis for allegiance. The basis has to be rooted in veracity.

I recently had lunch with a local education advocate who told me their version of MNPS’s school board’s recent chair vote and decision to start the search for a superintendent. It was a version filled with machinations, manipulations, and inaccuracies. It was a version they, and other influential leaders clung too despite being inaccurate.

Without betraying confidences, I was privy to many of the conversations surrounding those events and can attest they did not take place as described. At the conclusion of lunch, the activist left still believing in their version of recent events despite my arguments. That’s the danger of allowing untruths to get moored in the public narrative. Once established they become hard to reverse.

Those untruths end up playing on all three levels of education policy discussions – local, state, and federal. They shape the impression of those who don’t have the capacity to deep dive into local issues and as a consequence, can lead to decisions detrimental to MNPS student outcomes.

Like they say in AA, we must always be vigilant in placing policy before personalities and we must always engage in rigorous honesty.

NPR named “disinformation” as this year’s word of the year. Within their announcement, are words of warning that all of us should heed,

But these campaigns are not all lies. They’re also aimed at sharpening tribal divisions and sowing confusion or apathy, and a lot of their effort goes to building out networks of followers. And for those purposes, a true report or even a benign cat photo can sometimes be just as effective as a blatant falsehood. You have to win friends to influence people.

NPR is speaking on politics in general but the words are equally applicable to education policy discussions. The limiting of the spread of disinformation would make a good New Year’s resolution.

HEADSCRATCHERS FROM THE TNDOE

This morning Nashville Public Radio dived into the story of large scale employee attrition at the TNDOE that was first brought to light by ChalkbeatTN. Per NPR, with about two weeks left for the General Assembly to reconvene, the latest resignations of Assistant Commissioner Elizabeth Fiveash and of Policy Director Aleah Guthrie could impede the legislative work of the department. Fiveash and Guthrie have helped craft bills over multiple legislative sessions.

The department obviously has a different spin, one that offers up some questionable points,

They point at turnover data coming out of the Achievement School District — the Tennessee Department of Human Resources didn’t include ASD numbers for former Commissioners Candice McQueen or Kevin Huffman.

They also claim the elimination of the Read to Be Ready Program reading coaches also contributed to the higher rate.

So the argument is that the end of a promising literacy program is a significant contributor to a concerning level of employee attrition? That seems like a no-brainer fix to me, but what do I know?

QUICK HITS

Many of you may remember Ryan Jackson from when he was an AP at Maplewood HS – playing Robin to Ron Woodard’s Batman. Like Robin – who became his own individual hero as Nightwing – Jackson has migrated to Maury County and established his own identity as Principal of Mount Pleasant High School. Luckily for us, he has continued to share his thoughts through his blog. The latest is about learning to laugh and I strongly recommend it.

It’s not about education per se, but if you want to become more educated on issues that impact the south, check out the Southerly.

For MNPS families, Tour Tuesdays begin January 14 and the School Choice process begins January 27. School options details: ow.ly/80da50xIJyY

Make sure you check out the latest newsletter from MNEA – The Slate. It’s packed with useful information.

PET head JC Bowman has a new op-ed for the Chattanoogan that explores the issues affecting teacher attrition. It’s a worthy read.

Larry Brown is a writer that I take inspiration from. While in high school he showed no predisposition towards writing and as a result he didn’t pursue further formal education on the subject. Instead, he joined the Marines and later became a fireman. It was while employed as a fireman, and nearing his 30th birthday that he first began writing.

Despite enduring nearly a decade of rejection letters, he went on to win numerous awards for his writing, including the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award for fiction, the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Award, and Mississippi’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. He was also the first two-time winner of the Southern Book Award for Fiction.

I’m currently reading a recently released anthology of his short stories called, Tiny Love: The Complete Stories of Larry Brown. Despite his passing several years ago he continues to remain a testament that it’s never too late to embark on something new. Something we all need an occasional reminder of.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at last weekend’s poll results.

First up, do you believe that Dr. Battle has a hidden agenda of charter school proliferation? It was a tie between, “most ridiculous thing I’ve heard”, “think she has bigger issues” and “think they are sneaking in while she is occupied with other issues” – all very fair assumptions. Only 5 of you indicated a belief in Pinkston’s world view. Here are the write-ins,

Charters have so much dirty politics behind them. Hard to fend them off! 1
No charter plan and no real MNPS improvement plan. 1
Maybe Pinkston has a secret candidate he wants to be director

Question 2 was just me being nosy. I love knowing what people are reading and hope to find a hidden gem among your answers. Unfortunately, all too many of you are still too busy reading the want ads to enjoy a good novel. It does appear that many of you are interested in Educated: A Memoir.  Here are the write-ins,

required reading 1
What break??? 1
Refugee 1
Just sleeping and sleeping 1
Astrophysics for people in a hurry 1
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl 1
Whatever I find 1
Our Kids by Robert Putnam 1
Brene Brown Dare to Lead

As a side note, I love the Our Kids book.

The last question was about your allegiance to Nashville’s professional sports teams. As expected, the Predators led the pack but fueled by this season’s playoff run, the Titans aren’t far behind. Here are the write-ins,

I-65 survivors club, navigating traffic is sport enough 1
Love them all 1
Don’t care about any of them.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support throughout the year. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.



Categories: Education

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