Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Open Letter to My State Senator Vis-à-Vis L'Affair de Ritz

My illustrious state senator (and local Pizza Hut franchise lawyer): David Long

Sometimes my interest in peaceful communication gets steamrolled by snark.  This is one of those times.  I'm posting the text of a letter I sent to my State Senator, David Long, about his role in the attempt by some political operatives in Indiana to circumvent the authority of the Superintendent of Schools, Glenda Ritz.  

(You can read about it here.)

I had contacted him before the senate vote to let him know I thought he should vote "no." Given that he's been in the forefront of the attack on the superintendent, this was quixotic on my part.  I did, however, get a form email from his office after the vote in which he attempted to "explain" why he voted the way he did.  My response is as follows:

Dear State Senator Long:

I appreciate the response to my email sharing my thoughts on the bill regarding Superintendent Ritz.  

Unfortunately, the attempt to explain your position only further served to muddy the waters.  In particular, the letter engages in a tell-tale sign of political doublespeak: the circular argument.

The rationale for the legislation given in the letter was that Superintendent Ritz took actions you felt were detrimental to the relationship between her and the board.  The salient fact left out, of course, is that these actions were themselves responses to actions taken by the governor.

In essence, the reasoning of your argument is as follows: the governor didn’t like Ritz’s positions so he made unprecedented moves to circumvent her authority—authority given to her by the people of Indiana. 

 Superintendent Ritz resisted such moves and, because she wouldn’t play ball, legislation was needed to force her.

It’s a bit like the schoolyard bully defending himself by saying, “Don’t blame me for hitting her!  She kept putting her face in front of my fist!”

I recognize that you are counting on the average Indianan to not fully understand the dynamics of the narrative.  Perhaps that hope is well-founded.  That has yet to be seen.

It’s also clear you hope that part of these forgotten dynamics are other statements you’ve made about Superintendent Ritz.  In your letter, you plead innocence about this being in any way about Superintendent Ritz personally.  But that doesn’t square with the following public statement made last month:

“In all fairness, Superintendent Ritz was a librarian, OK? . . . She has never run a school system, and that is a bit of a problem for her — she’s on a learning curve there.”

Now, in all fairness, you’re a local pol and pizza joint lawyer, OK?  You’ve never run a school system, or had any professional experience in education for that matter.  And that’s a bit of a problem for you—you’re on a learning curve there.  

See, education isn’t a political game. It’s actually important.  The effects of decisions made now will have consequences when your own political career is reduced to nothing more than a footnote in a dusty, untouched reference tome in some government office in Indianapolis.  

Those of us who have devoted our lives to education know this; neither you nor the governor seem to.
(In all fairness, Governor Pence is a former radio talk show host, OK?  He also has never run a school system, and that’s a bit of a problem for him—he’s on a learning curve there.)

Indeed, not only do you not seem to understand education, but your ignorance encompasses the basic aspects of democracy as well.

The thing is, democracy is messy.  It’s intended to be.  It’s meant to foil the individual agendas of leaders and consign the momentary yowling of attention-starved loudmouths to impotent silence.  

You and the governor complain that after an initial period of finding common ground, there is now friction with Superintendent Ritz.  Good!  That’s as it should be.  One would think that as a self-confessed conservative, you would be more appreciative of the ways in which the machinery of representative democracy stands in the way of the momentary whims of individuals who have persuaded themselves that they alone know what’s best for the rest of us.

But then again, even the most basic mechanics of democracy seem to elude your understanding, or at least respect.  Superintendent Ritz received 1.3 million votes—more than Governor Pence.  And forty (40) times as many Hoosiers cast their ballots for the superintendent as did for you.  

Now, perhaps you, in your wisdom, know better than these 1.3 million people.  Could be.  But in a democracy, the people have the voice.  The people have the power.  That’s the idea, anyway.  Even if you are convinced that their decision was a bad one, you are obliged to live with it until you can change their minds and convince them to vote with you.  And if your case is so sound, that ought not be a problem, should it?

Ultimately, it’s not so much that you are participating in an end-run around Superintendent Ritz for political gain or that you insulted her personally.  It’s that you’re participating in an end-run around the will of the people of Indiana.  You’ve insulted them by refusing to abide by their decisions.

But In all fairness, you’re a political apparatchik, OK? You have apparently never thought deeply and seriously about what being a public servant in a democracy is fundamentally about, and that’s a bit of a problem for you—you’re on a learning curve there.

Fortunately, we educators can help you out with that.


Dr. Ted Remington

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