The long awaited justification from Nick Coleman on his Maxfield Elementary reporting appears in today's Star Tribune. It looks like we know his style so well that we can now anticipate his actions with a high degree of accuracy, or perhaps he's taking style tips and inspiration directly from us, because he did fulfill two of the predictions we listed last week.
On Dec 13, we predicted he would:
Attempt to distract from the real issue via ad hominem attacks on bloggers (a status to which he'll assign Pioneer Press writer Westover). In Nick's mind the word "blogger" alone is enough to discredit any criticism he received, so he'll bleed it for all it's worth.
Excerpts (noncontiguous) from today's Coleman, regarding Craig Westover:
Unless, of course, you happen to be an ideological enemy of public education, like the full-time blogger and semi-pro newspaper columnist from the mean avenues of Afton who took the Maxfield story and twisted it into a rant against public schools.
After distorting the Maxfield story, Captain Fishsticks [Westover] was reproved in print by Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley. Since then, Fishsticks has gone back to his boat and confined his tirades to the first refuge of scoundrels, his personal Internet blog, where he is toasted by other rum-swigging hearties daily.
An uncanny manifestation of our prediction, wouldn't you say? By the way, the "other rum-swigging hearties" includes us, as well as the other local bloggers drawn to the Maxfield issue. A not all together disagreeable description, I must say. We do occasionally enjoy strong drink (though not usually rum, we stay away from anything prone to having an umbrella in it). And "hearty" means "jovial" and we are typically merry souls, especially when strong drink is involved.
Back to the predictions, last week we said Coleman would engage in:
Clintonian parsing of language. He'll try to make us believe there is a difference between "textbooks" and "books in classrooms." Any readers who made the mistake of confusing the two will be blamed for their own ineptitude. Then he'll question the secret, evil motivations behind anyone who could possibly make the mistake of misreading a Nick Coleman column.
Coleman, in his charming way, did just that:
Deliberate idiocy is a terrible thing. When I wrote about a book shortage at Maxfield Elementary School in St. Paul Nov. 14, I made it clear that the books that were in short supply were reading books -- books needed to boost the literacy levels of kids who attend the school.
Sadly, "literacy" turns out to be a hard word for public school bashers to understand. Literacy means an ability to read and comprehend. But the professional bashers of public school education seem to have poor reading comprehension. Either that, or they are mean as snakes. I'm leaning toward snakes.
Fans of strict verification can review Coleman's columns from
Nov. 14 and Dec. 5 to see if there is any distinction made in types of books or a specific mention of "reading books." (Trusting souls and the lazy/casually disinterested can take my word for it, there isn't). And even if there were such references (and there aint!), the distinction is meaningless. What other kinds of books are there in schools, besides "reading books"? Did Coleman think we were referring to "bunion massaging books" or "books used to serve lunch on"?
Coleman uses the word "books" throughout, without any qualification. For example:
How could this happen? A school with not enough books?
"I don't want to go on the record with what I really think," Wiley said. "But I've never seen anything like this before. We haven't been adequately furnished. We don't have enough books."
Often times he uses it in conjunction with "classrooms," like:
In order to teach kids to read, it helps if you have books. But when Zelma Wiley walked into Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul and took over as principal a couple of years ago, there were hardly any books on the shelves of the school's 21 classrooms and not nearly enough books -- or the right mix of reading levels and subject matters -- in the school's library.
Former Education Czarina Yecke was canned by the Legislature but never seemed overly concerned about the special problems at a place like Maxfield. Then again, few have shown any interest. How else to explain that Maxfield doesn't have enough books?
"I was amazed," said Sarah Carlsson. "And a lot of the books we did have were the wrong level, like first-grade books in a fifth-grade class." Carlsson is a "literacy coach" at Maxfield, but was previously a classroom teacher who was unaware that the other classrooms were as sparsely furnished with books as her own.
Coleman's claim he made anything "clear" about textbooks versus "reading books." or anything else, is absurd.
In reality, the critical distinction of the types of books Maxfield was interested in acquiring never appeared in either Coleman column. The whole truth only appeared in the Zelma Wiley Pioneer Press commentary, where she explains:
Earlier this year, our school launched a drive to collect books for students to borrow, take home or keep. Our students love to read. Unfortunately, many don't have access to books at home (95 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch). Our goal was to satiate our students' hunger for books at home and supplement the great work being done by teachers and community partners in our classrooms.
It is an extracurricular book drive, to serve needs above and beyond classroom instruction. A far different situation than anything Coleman divulged in his reporting. Recall, he used the alleged book shortage at Maxfield as an example of why "YOUR SCHOOLS ARE BURNING." Based on the fact the principal of that school states that the book drive is for students who don't have books at home, Scott Johnson opined (on NARN yesterday) "it sounds to me like their homes are burning." (With quips like that, it's no wonder Power Line is Time Magazine's Blog of the Year.")
Amid all of the panic and bombast from Coleman, let's not lose sight of the real issue of this debate - finding the best way to provide public education. That is, the best way to utilize resources to educate the children of our community, not the best way to sustain the current system. Craig Westover has been dedicated to the premise that the best way to educate is by providing a choice to the parents. If the government schools aren't performing to parents' standards, they should be empowered to seek other options. And because of this, Nick Coleman labels Westover a "deliberate idiot," a "professional school basher" and a "snake" (not to mention "Captain Fishsticks" - which, to be truthful, is pretty funny).
For substantive, professional debate on this issue, keep an eye on Westover's blog. And on the Pioneer Press. Remember, that is where Principal Wiley chose to directly address her school's situation, not in the Star Tribune. And beyond Westover's once a week contribution to the Pioneer Press editorial page (which hopefully will increase in frequency), there are others, like today's excellent commentary on education reform by Steve Dornfeld of the Metropolitan Council.
Right now, school choice is but a dream in St. Paul. One worth fighting for, of course. But if you'd like to help conditions here and now, we encouage you to make a donation to Maxfield. Who knows, one of these kids may grow up some day to write a column in the Star Tribune. As Nick Coleman shows us, deliberate idiocy is a terrible thing. Let's nip this one in the bud right now.