Saturday, September 29, 2007

Truth, Journalism, and Stuff

One of Lebanon Truth's most recent posts got me thinking about journalism.

Specifically, the following passage from this post:

So that is why it is disturbing that the journalism program at the high school seems not to be teaching reporters ethics and good manners. The statement in the school paper is libelous -- it recklessly quotes an adult as saying that the superintendent was fired from two jobs in a manner that would lead the average reader (a teenager) to believe it is true. There were warnings within Shearer's diatribe that he was an unreliable source: he spewed forth a fountain of alleged facts. for example, at least 75% of the people in town want Robinson gone. He knows that from his informal conversations with people. He knows that Robinson was fired because he called people in those towns. (If you really wanted to know what happened, you should check school board minutes or at least the local paper). The student shuld have been directed to remove the quote or include a clarification of the real state of affairs. The student should have been taught that there is a difference between getting fired for cause and not having a contract extended.

I don't know any other way to say this, so I'll be direct: I think this is sloppy writing on the part of LT, and as a result, it's likely to be incendiary irregardless of its truth. Case in point: Even given the number of examples LT uses, the statement "seems not to be teaching reporters ethics and good manners" is incendiary because it's a far different claim than merely pointing out multiple examples of "bad" journalism or mistakes on the part of the journalism staff. Also, it's a claim against the newspaper advisor and the newspaper staff - it implies that the staff is doing a bad job because they are not getting the proper instruction.

To put it another way: A series of examples is not a generalized (or generalizable) claim about the program. There's an immense amount of space between the two.

So: Is LT correct? In some ways, it doesn't matter. Why? Because the tone of the comment almost insures it will be rejected by the people it seems to be directed at: those people involved with the journalism program.

For the record, I think LT is correct on the substance of their comments, and I hope the Warrior Spirit folks have the time and energy to track down more background on the story - because the other big subtext of what's going on is that I happen to know the newspaper's editorial staff was decimated over the summer, and as a result, they've had a heck of a time just getting an issue out. For that reason alone I am not surprised that someone would take issue with the content of their first publication of the year - it was produced under far more stress than normal and with a less experienced staff than normal. That and I would love to see the WS staff find the time and energy to really dive into this issue in way the Lebanon or Albany papers haven't - it's not often that a high school newspaper gets the chance to do original reporting that can compete with an "official" publication, but this might be one of those chances.

We are talking about a high school journalism program here, and inasmuch as LT says "Journalism is a great way for students to learn some great skills and have tons of fun. And they will learn from their mistakes, but don't we have an advisor to keep them from practicing mistakes that will hurt others?" I think that these kinds of things are going to happen, and calling folks out as a first step is not the most productive way to address the problem. Certainly taking a veiled swipe at the journalism advisor isn't going to help things either. That sort of action creates a divide, an us-vs.-them setup (one that journalists can fall into very easily, I think) where there doesn't need to be one. Besides, this sort of error happens in the world of "professional" journalism all the time, and often with equal or greater consequences. Mistakes will happen, so I guess I'd suggest that how one deals with them is probably more telling than the mistake itself.

My experience with my college paper also suggests that journalists, for whatever reason, tend to fall into a defensive mode at darn near the drop of a hat, and once that happens, it's that much harder to build a positive relationship based on trust. And needless to say, a positive relationship based on trust is a good thing for all parties concerned - it gets journalists access and it (I know, I know) tends to result in better coverage for the non-journalist party involved.

So in this case I might have suggested that LT take their concerns to the editor or advisor directly (if such a thing is possible) and frame them as pointing out factual inaccuracies in the story (because journalists tend to respond to that sort of claim), and then let the newspaper staff do the work themselves and correct their own mistake. Pointing it out to the world in this way is, I think, unnecessarily confrontational.

Qualified Support

From the BBC, an interesting story out of New Zealand:

New Zealanders have been given the chance to write their own laws, with a new online tool launched by police.

The "wiki" will allow the public to suggest the wording of a new police act, as part of a government review of the current law, written in 1958.

Police say they hope to gain a range of views from the public on the new law before presenting it to parliament.

I have two opposing sentiments about this - hence the post's title.

Sentiment #1: This is a good thing; it's open, it's collaborative, it allows people to respond without fear (mostly), and did I mention it's collaborative? In terms of public policy, this is a great move.

Sentiment #2: The idea of public policy is predicated on a small number of folks making rules for the whole - and that there is a mechanism for enforcement of said rules (which is almost always violence). In this case, I'm sure the results of the wiki project will be vetted and edited by some official committee somewhere. So the idea of public policy depends on an assumption of a hierarchy at least of power, if not one of knowledge or expertise.

All that said, I offer - to no surprise - qualified support for this move. It's better than the status quo of making up policy behind closed doors and then asking for input, but not as good as deciding that having fewer policies on the books is a good policy.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Get Off My Lawn, Pretty Please?

Hering's editorial for today isn't actually that bad... except for one giant, glaring error.

Well, there may be more than one. The beginning:

The case of Brandon Mayfield is a poor test of the secret searches and surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act. It’s a poor test because the man was no terrorist. Instead he turned out to be an innocent man wrongly suspected of being involved in an atrocity in Spain.

OK, yeah, that's an error. Last time I checked, we were talking about the process, not the outcome. If the process - in this case the new PATRIOT Act stuff - is good, then the fact that Mayfield was wrongly accused should not matter, right? If the process that the government used to go after him was legal... but apparently it somehow makes a difference.

Anyway. Moving on:

Suppose the government gets wind that somebody with links to al-Qaida has recently signed for shipments of material that could be assembled into a bomb to spread poison gas. Getting a warrant and searching his address would tip off the terrorist cell, if any. So the government uses the Patriot Act to do a search in secret and — a week and a half later — manages to arrest the entire cell together as they huddle in the basement assembling their own version of a WMD.

Is anybody other than the terrorists going to complain about how the search was conducted and the evidence obtained?

Oops. There's the giant glaring error, or, as I like to call it, Hasso's latest lie by omission. I refuse to believe the man is stupid, so I can only assume this is intentional.

Hering sets up a dichotomy here that turns out to be false. He claims the choices are between a) "Getting a warrant and searching his address would tip off the terrorist cell..." or b) "So the government uses the Patriot Act to do a search in secret..."

Problem is - well there are actually two problems. The first problem is that Hering never establishes why option A results in the terrorist cell being tipped off - certainly the search can be conducted when no one is home, yes?

But the second problem is the bigger one: There is already a way, without resorting to the PATRIOT Act, to get a secret warrant. It's called the FISA Act, and it allows for all kinds of secret and nasty shit on the part of the government. Hering's omission of this (or any other kind of) option is misleading. Of course, it's kind of obvious where he falls:

Let us also hope that when there’s an actual and imminent threat of terrorist destruction, government agents do whatever it takes in the time required to protect us from that threat. (hh)

Yup. He's been watching 24 again.


From the New York Times, a story on the newly redesigned citizenship test:

Federal immigration authorities yesterday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

The redesign of the test, the first since it was created in 1986 as a standardized examination, follows years of criticism in which conservatives said the test was too easy and immigrant advocates said it was too hard.

The new questions did little to quell that debate among many immigrant groups, who complained that the citizenship test would become even more daunting. Conservatives seemed to be more satisfied.

Imagine my surprise.

I was thinking about going into a diatribe about the test itself - it's available as a PDF at the link - but I think I'll limit that part and take it a different direction. In a second, anyway. First:

72. Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.
▪ War of 1812
▪ Mexican-American War
▪ Civil War
▪ Spanish-American War

78. Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s.*
▪ World War I
▪ World War II
▪ Korean War
▪ Vietnam War
▪ (Persian) Gulf War

Funny how Mexico is the only country from the Western Hemisphere to make these lists. I could name a few others. I'll grant that most of the things I am thinking of are not wars, but U.S. interventions or occupations - but still. For a more complete list, see this Wikipedia article.

Anyway, on to my larger point: The citizenship test is pretty bogus. While the questions seem roughly at the level of a high school government class, that could have an interesting result:

“People who take this seriously will have a good chance of passing,” said Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University. “Indeed, their knowledge of American history may even exceed the knowledge of millions of American-born citizens.”

On the other hand, the test would seem rather ludicrous if it was designed at the functioning level of most U.S. citizens, wouldn't it?

So there's some tension there, between designing a test on the merits and designing a test based on the average knowledge level of the population the immigrant in question is entering. I think one could make a good argument that there's a double standard present here.

But that's still not my main point. Mostly, I think the test is bogus because I think the idea of national citizenship is kind of bogus. Lines on a map are arbitrary, and using violence to prevent people from crossing those lines strikes me as immoral. Also, the idea that someone is more valuable because they are a citizen of a particular country? Pretty baseless.

The Real Reason for Diversity Training

According to one person, anyway.

I tend to agree.

This Thesis Topic Won't Make it Out of Committee...

The Rhetorical and Sociologal Analyses of White-Supremacist Barbershops

Overheard at a recent gathering of friends:

"It's a pyramid scheme. God makes out, and everybody else is screwed."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Get Off My Lawn, or I Make You Take an Introductory Logic Class

This editorial by Hering is so predictable I would have only been surprised had he not written it.

It suggests all the intelligence of a really mad squirrel.

And all the critical thinking and analytical skills of a squirrel, too. I'm just going to assume that Hering did not actually write this, but instead farmed it out to a) his crack staff of trained weasels that he keeps in back for emergencies (a comment not to be construed as an insult to DH reporters), or b) he was possessed by the ghost of Lee Atwater.

Nah, this editorial is too nice for Atwater. It lacks a gratuitous shot at people of color and/or women.


Hering's latest waste of space - can you tell I'm annoyed yet? - is on the topic of a recent pay increase for some "60 department heads working for the state" who "will get raises of up to 24 percent."

Needless to say, Hering is not happy. On the one hand, I understand why - on its face, that's a really large set of raises, and it's public money. OK. But check out Hering's criticisms:

It’s good to know that Oregon is so flush that it can afford this extraordinary largesse. Voters may want to keep it in mind when they decide next month on a tax increase that would hit mainly the poor. (We’re talking, of course, about the exorbitant 72 percent increase in the state cigarette tax, from $1.18 a pack to $2.025.)

Manages to bash the cigarette tax hike, even though there's really no relation between it and the raises. Check.

The Kulongoski administration is justifying the whopping raises on the grounds of comparisons. It says the adjustments are needed to keep good administrators from jumping ship for higher-paying jobs in other states or in the private sector.

This is the standard drill in government on the local level too: You do a comparison. You find some reasonably comparable jobs that pay more than the ones you are concerned about. Then you say the pay needs to go up because it’s below the list of comparables.

You manage to mock the perfectly valid and acceptable reason given for the raises without ever actually admitting that you're mocking it, thereby implying for the reader that there's a problem with comparison-based raises... even though you don't ever actually say what the problem might be. (Hint: In a market economy, which Hering claims to favor, comparison-based raises make perfect sense - so any bashing Hering could come up with would problem be either inconsistent with his beliefs or very poorly reasoned.)

It would be easier to have confidence in the validity of such comparisons if they ever showed that somebody’s pay had to be lowered in order to be fair. But that’s not how it works. The comparison approach works like a ratchet — always up.

You pull some pure nonsense out of somewhere and expect it to be taken seriously by your readers, since after all, you're a big, respectable journalist. Check.

As much as I suspect Hering detests academia, I'm beginning to think even tenured professors have to work more to keep tenure than Hering does to keep his job.

Besides, getting back to that market thing: When's the last time you saw the price of something drop in a marketplace because someone else was selling said product cheaper? I know, I know - that's certainly the way it's supposed to be, but I'm just not seeing it happen anymore. Globalization and the monopolization of many areas of the economy suggest that there isn't really a whole lot of competition in the marketplace anymore. Do some research on cell phone plans here vs. plans in Europe or Asia. It's scary.

And Hering's suggestion that pay doesn't get lowered is, um, evasive at best. Of course job pay gets lowered occasionally, especially in the public sector. However, the reason is usually something besides a comparison-based setup. That would be punishing someone by cutting their pay for something they did not do.

Then there's the closer:

Lon Hoklin, a spokesman in the state Department of Administrative Services, was quoted that the state agency directors and managers “affect literally millions of people, and we need people who get it right.”

Well, if they’re getting it right already, a more modest pay adjustment probably would have kept them happy. And if they’re not getting it right, what justifies their soaring pay?

And if they are indeed getting it right, how come it takes years to get anything done in the state, anything from fixing highway bottlenecks (such as Pacific Boulevard in the Albany couplet) to getting access to a state park such as Bowers Rocks? (hh)

Hering is dishonest here again by implying that the job raises are fixed to one person. Nothing in the announcement suggests that people are any less likely to be fired. Instead, an across-the-board set of comparison raises like this suggests that Oregon is trying to attract or retain higher quality people (and that they are using a tool first perfected in Hering's beloved private sector to do it). Rather than focus on the individual in the job, the pay raises are focused on the job - so people can still be fired for doing poorly. I'd call it sloppy writing on Hering's part but I think the dishonesty through omission is intentional.

Finally, there is the unbelievable last line, the complaint about how things take so long. There is so little connection between what Hering is complaining about and the pay raises that, well, it's obvious that Hering just stuck that complaint in there as a sop to ideology. It's the sort of complaint a three-year-old makes, one that requires no critical thinking whatsoever. It assumes the state is a single, cohesive, uniform, and consistent entity, so any mistake can just be blamed on the "state bureaucracy."

Actually, now that I think about it, that sort of blaming is generally a stalking horse for right-wingers who want privatization for ideological reasons. I'd say Hering - pretensions to libertarianism aside - fits that bill.

I'm waiting for him to endorse Ron Paul, or maybe an actual Libertarian candidate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reinstatement Board Meeting Notes and Thoughts

I know this is really horribly out of date, but I've had....issues....with the Internet for some time now, so this is just now getting out. Apologies for the the lateness; also, given said lateness, this is almost more for my interest than anyone else's, as this certainly isn't news.

So I attended the most recent Lebanon Community School Board meeting, held on Tuesday the 18th of September at the District Office.

It was a good one.

I'll try to run through it chronologically, adding some commentary along the way.

Beware – this is probably going to be a long post, probably the longest I have ever written (it's about 4300 words – yikes!).

The board entered the room around 7:20, about 20 minutes after they were supposed to start. Chair Sprenger noted that they hadn't finished the executive session business that kept them. Rick Alexander was a few minutes late, and Sprenger didn't give him much chance to show – she waited maybe 30 seconds and then started without him.

The board opened by having everyone stand, face the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

How quaint.

As soon as the board started, Josh Wineteer motioned to add audience comments. Shimmin seconded. (A query: why aren't audience comments added before the meeting? Does Josh really wait until he sees people there? Or is there some sort of rule mandating that they not be added to the agenda before the meeting?) Comments were limited to three minutes/person and 30 minutes total. I'll summarize most of the comments...

Ali Krebs: Some administrator claimed that there was no way Alysia Furman and I could have given the speeches we gave without help the last time we spoke...that is insulting and wrong...the only help I have is god's, who gets at least 50% credit...anyone who thinks we can't speak for ourselves, as former LHS honors students and valedictorians should be ashamed of themselves.

[Readers will note that I think shame is a poor tool to try and induce change, but this was pretty funny – she slapped down her doubters in no uncertain terms; her speaking skills were top-notch, far better than just about any other speaker and most of the board itself. Actually, let me make this a tangent: one of the conflicts I see present in the larger LCSD issue is definitely classic class conflict. It seems that many of the anti-Robinson folks are working class, or at least folks with a relatively low level of education, and as a result they have certain ideas about how things should work – they are informed by different things than those people with college educations. Certainly there is a large gap in speaking styles, word choice, and types of arguments put forth; I'm also sensing a big gap in values, which, I think, is attributable to both political orientation (populist/conservative vs. liberal) and education level. I would like to see this class-based conflict made explicit, but I don't expect it to happen.]

Cory Koos: The Board is responsible for the lack of trust in the community...the review should move's the board's job to investigate Robinson...the majority of the board voted to suspend Robinson, so you must move forward.

[Koos was showing some strong emotion over this issue, which I think speaks to her sincerity. However, by placing herself on the side of the anti-Robinson folks, she's working on a good case of projection – I think a good portion of the lack of trust in the community is due to the badmouthing of Robinson and anyone who supports him in public – I mean, someone stood up a few meetings ago and told Chris Fisher to resign if he wouldn't vote to suspend Robinson. If that's not an action that destroys trust, I don't know what is. She was also trying to shame the board while simultaneously trying to claim that investigating Robinson followed directly from the oversight function of the board, which isn't technically true; charitably, it's only true if there is evidence of wrongdoing. The anti-Robinson folks obviously think there is, but I think their tactics have resulted in people discounting what evidence they do have.]

Unknown Speaker #1: There's no public support for Robinson.....[Of course not; his supporters on the board have been shouted down at meetings before. Who's going to speak out in that kind of environment? It's not perceived as safe by anyone right now. Another case of projection.]

Woman w/ Three Kids: Board should reinstate Robinson on the grounds that the debate should be about issues, not personalities or people. [In general this is true, but in this case since one of the complaints against Robinson is that he has an abrasive personality, his personal style is totally relevant.]

Tracy Krebs (former band & history teacher, father of the aforementioned Ali Krebs): I consider Robinson a “brilliant man” and “close personal friend,” but a review is's necessary to either show how good things are and clear his name, or to fix the “disaster” that is the district, depending on how you view what's going on....therefore everyone should want it...the real question is not whether Robinson is a good man [then what's the point of your first comments?] but whether or not he offers “effective leadership”...if there are board members who are not willing to go forward with immediate action one way or another, they should resign from the board, tonight if necessary.

[Krebs the Elder's comments were interesting. I think he did a good job sounding impartial and reasonable – a better job, in fact, that just about anyone else. However, I think his last comment about resigning was just silly and needlessly provocative. Also, I'm starting to get tired of this “effective leadership” phrase, at least until I can connect it to some practices on the ground. Despite Robinson's latest book, I'm wondering if he thinks being an effective leader means being in total control or being an authoritarian. It would explain a lot.]

Unknown Speaker #2: Over 75% of the teachers don't like Robinson....I will admit that I personally dislike the man....Since Lebanon got an F on its latest report card, Robinson must go....Robinson is also at fault for the district losing the E3/Gates Foundation money....Robinson has a lack of vision....I've called people at Robinson's last two jobs, and he was run out of town for good reason....he cuts programs that shouldn't be cut.

[This guy was pretty much wrong on every count. The 75% claim has no basis in fact. The “F” Lebanon received is more due to how bad NCLB is than anything else – if any single part of the report card gets an F, the entire thing is downgraded to an F, which is just bad public policy; in this case, I believe that Lebanon got two minor F-parts, but otherwise got a pretty good rating. The E3 money was pulled, as far as I know, due to the infighting, which was started by the anti-Robinson folks. Robinson was probably behind getting the money in the first place. Robinson has oodles of vision – just see his book. And finally, the worry about Robinson cutting programs sounds like a stalking horse for either a classic Lebanon Fear of Change, or a fear that vocational programs will be cut (the latter rumor having been around since Robinson got here.)]

Paul Meadowbrook (who happens to be the personal attorney for Wineteer and Alexander): The board [specifically Chris Fisher] has a double standard because they are unwilling to spend money on a review or a buyout, but Robinson spent a whole bunch of district money on a lawsuit against my clients.

[Let me say this clearly: This guy had no business trashing anyone in the public comments section. Hell, he probably shouldn't have said anything, what with his being two board members' personal attorney and all. It just convinced me he is a hack. Also, I don't think the double standard part is true – I'm not sure the board had any authority to stop Robinson from suing – but it sounds like the policy Robinson had regarding information control was a bad, bad policy.]

Susan Wright: Robinson needs to go at any cost....the problems here go back to at least Harvey Hazen...the board is ignoring the vote of no confidence...I've talked to four board members, and Wineteer, Alexander, and Shimmin listened to my concerns.

Debbie Vaniver (sp?): I want to thank the teachers for their hard work teaching....I am afraid of the district simply reverting to what it was...I don't think the district can afford to spend the $400,000 to buy Robinson out, so we have to learn to live with him.

At this point, the board acquiesced to allotting more time for public comments.

Jennifer Walter (LHS teacher): Many of my government students are here tonight, albeit in the back row...there is no unanimity when it comes to the teachers' opinion on the least there is a strong minority that support him but are afraid to speak up...the board should conduct its own survey of the teachers to see what they can be really hard to do the right thing, but we are a society governed by laws and not by personalities.

[I find her claims of an oppressive environment far more credible given the ratio of anti- to pro-Robinson speakers. Also, her claim about this being a nation of laws is almost cute, given how naïve it is. This is Lebanon we're talking about – not only is it rural enough to not have the complexity when it comes to public debates that a bigger city would (and Walter is reportedly a former DC attorney), but in case Walter missed it, the recent conservative movement is, in fact, ruled by personalities and not laws – and that shift has been bleeding down into everyday citizens for a long time. Call it politics + a celebrity worship culture + a desire for power.]

Connie Schmidt: I have recently returned to Lebanon and am appalled at what I've been reading in the paper...the 75% claim is not scientific...the majority of the public seems uninformed....sometimes I wonder if the board just has a vendetta against Robinson....the board is too negative.

Terry Cowert: I have kids that have gone through the Lebanon's necessary to “take personality and personal feelings out of this,” but also that the administrative leave is necessary....if we bring him back after six weeks then the suspension means “nothing.” [I tuned him out after that - his comments reminded me of the justification for war that says we must continue to kill people to honor the dead. Needless to say, it's not an argument I agree with regardless of the form and forum in which it appears. Besides, if the suspension was a mistake, then it meaning nothing is not exactly a problem.]

At this point, Sprenger closed audience comments; she claimed that the board had allowed “an hour” of comments, which was completely wrong since they started at 7:20 and not 7 p.m. They had allowed 40 minutes.

They moved on to the agenda item that everyone had shown up for, item C1: Motion to rescind the board's action in placing the Superintendent on leave.

Sprenger started the discussion by reminding the audience that the board had received extensive legal counsel on this issue.

Debbi Shimmin – as suspected – started the discussion with a speech. Some highlights: We all make mistakes....I've only been on the board for 2.5's been a roller coaster ride...I want a transparent district...I want everyone to care about the kids as a team. Sometimes you need to “correct a mistake.”

At this point I assumed she was going to make the motion and vote to reinstate Robinson; there had been a big question as to who placed this particular item on the agenda, and speculation led to Shimmin, since she was the swing vote and neither Fisher nor Sprenger would place it on the agenda without knowing they the had three votes necessary to win.

Shimmin again: That one vote (to suspend Robinson) exposed me to a plethora of negative comments about me and my family....people have said really mean things on the's not good to talk about my friends, that should be my business...nevertheless, we need to put it aside and work together to create an open and honest district....I want to be able to talk to whoever I want, whenever I want...I want everyone to be treated with respect...the fact that someone at the Lebanon Express wants my personal records is disgusting & disturbing and it's gotta stop.... (at this point she gets a short but intense standing ovation) doesn't matter because there's nothing in there to find.

[A side note: As far as I know, the Express did some sort of public records request, asking for Shimmin's emails and phone calls from her public accounts – not her personal stuff. Oregon laws indicate that such communications are a matter of public record for public officials, which includes school board members, and can actually be requested by just about anyone. Shimmin may consider the Express's actions morally reprehensible, but they are certainly legal and not even all that uncommon. While I wish Shimmin would have differentiated, I'm not sure the folks who applauded care to note such a distinction.]

At this point Shimmin motioned to rescind the earlier motion to put Robinson on paid administrative leave, thereby reappointing him. Chris Fisher seconded almost immediately.

The temperature in the room dropped a good 10 degrees in two seconds. All side conversations stopped, and things got really tense really fast. History (and audience comments) suggest that a large portion of the audience was anti-Robinson, so this was not what they wanted to hear. Basically, everyone was holding their breath.

The motion having been seconded, Sprenger asked for discussion. Predictably, Rick Alexander was chomping at the bit to talk. Also predictably, he failed to make any sense whatsoever. Alexander actually said he wanted an “open and honest fact-finding mission.” Riiiiight. Of all the players in this little drama, my money goes on Alexander and Jim Robinson as the two who play their cards closest to the vest. It was at this point he actually used the phrase “cut and run” as an argument for why it was a bad idea to reinstate the Superintendent, then claimed that it would be impossible to have an investigation with Robinson on the job.

Let me just note that that the whole “cut and run” thing only applies if the actual 'mission' is to get rid of Robinson, not to act as an oversight board. It is possible to do an independent, outside review without suspending the guy. Let me also note that I hate that clichéd statement and what it represents with a passion, and that I am not surprised a reactionary like Alexander would use it.

At this point, both Shimmin and Sprenger noted that it was possible, even desirable, to continue with a review/investigation even if the previous motion suspending Robinson was rescinded.

Wineteer: I am a victim of Robinson – remember when he sued Rick and I.....Robinson's rules regarding information control are really unfair [This is about the only time I've ever agreed with Josh] and would prevent any kind of review from taking place....anyone who abstained from the original motion to suspend actually has a “moral obligation not to vote to rescind. It is their moral obligation not to vote.”

Let's ponder that statement for a second. “It is their moral obligation not to vote.”

Who writes this shit, anyway, Kim Fandiño? That's pathetic. It's total bullshit. There is no reasonable argument that results in it being proper for them not to vote on this issue, which probably explains why Wineteer didn't try to explain his claim. It's a transparent and poor attempt at stopping Robinson from being reinstated.

Chris Fisher: We must follow the we follow our own policies?...Can't we just introduce a new motion to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the district?...I “want to get to the bottom of why this community is split.”

Sprenger: I should note that the ELRB ruling is a recommendation, and therefore not binding...I abstained from the original vote because I was concerned about our lack of legal counsel....I talk to teachers all the time; I'm in a school almost every day....”Reasonable adults can differ in their opinions.” [That last is a harsh rebuke towards the tendency of critics to try and silence anyone who shows any support for Robinson, I think, but since Sprenger is very diplomatic as board chair, that's about the meanest thing she'll say. The subtext is clearly “...can differ in their opinions without resorting to character assassination.”]

Wineteer: The votes in the last several years have often been 3-2 with myself and Rick in the minority....look who got sued. [This is actually a really good point, though the simplest explanation is that what Wineteer and Alexander were saying to the teachers was substantially different, and quite possibly against Robinson's contract as per his lawsuit's claims, than what Sprenger says. I'd be curious to see this point be explored, however, given the plethora of rumors floating around that suggest that Robinson is inclined to move teachers around in a punitive fashion.]

Alexander: The original motion was intended to cover the whole district. [While this is possibly technically true, it's certainly not true in spirit – the motion was obviously intended to go after Robinson; Rick was just reaching for some sort of justification for not reinstating Robinson.]

Fisher: Where do we go from here....pointing fingers and focusing on the past is not helpful.

8:24 p.m. Sprenger calls for a vote on the motion. The ayes carry 3-2, with Sprenger, Fisher, and Shimmin voting to reinstate. Alexander and Wineteer are the nays. At this point, the audience erupts in hushed conversations, and 15 or so people get up and leave immediately. Sprenger asks them to stay for the rest of the meeting, but I saw no one who is up and moving turn around and sit back down.

I got the sense that there were lots of folks there who didn't think Shimmin would actually go through with changing her vote. As people were leaving, I heard one woman say something to the effect of “They got to her. They threatened her. I knew they would.”

That's insane. If there were threats made, they were by the anti-Robinson folks. My sense from the one woman is that she believes that Robinson is all-powerful or something, or maybe that there is a secrete cabal of folks in Lebanon that are calling the shots. [I have longed believed that as well, but I didn't see any of those guys with little cars that ride in the Strawberry Festival Parade – my secret cabal of choice - so I think it's not true in this case.]

It must be nice to have things be so clean and neat. Instead, I think Shimmin has been under tremendous pressure from her first day on the board from both camps, and while she initially went one way, the events between the original suspension and the most recent board meeting gave her a chance to realize the consequences of her actions and the type of folks that are the at the core of the anti-Robinson movement. Her speech made it very clear that she's here for the long haul: She wants what's best for the district, and I think she realized that Rick Alexander, Josh Wineteer, and Kim Fandiño are not good for the district. I suspect she also realizes that what the Alexander/Wineteer camps represents is bad politics and bad process, which only lead to bad outcomes.

Oh, and the fact that two people, including the board chair, asked Shimmin if she had an escort out of the building should suggest which 'side' has members that are more likely to physically threaten anyone.

At this point, the board moved on to the next agenda item, which was determining what kind of review they wanted. While I have some notes from this part of the meeting, I'm not going to go into any detail. It was painful – the folks who are the most gung-ho about finding something wrong, Wineteer and Alexander, really have no idea how to go about organizing a review.

Anyway, that was the board meeting, or at least the part with all the drama. I came in convinced that Shimmin was going to be the swing vote to reinstate, having found her conscience of sorts, and I was right. I also suspect that the anti-Robinson folks will turn on her now, and I'm curious to see if that happens.

And once again, I'm reminded that Rick Alexander cannot for the life of him think on his feet – it's like he has a script to follow, but if it runs out or things don't go his way, he broods until his brain comes up with something, anything – and then he spits out it, hoping for the best. Usually it's something pathetically bad, and that meeting was no different. I am, however, more convinced of his ability to read than I used to be.

Then there's Mr. Wineteer. I'm beginning to think he is actually a robot being controlled jointly by Alexander and Fandiño, and that recently, she has taken majority control. He walked out of the meeting like a dog who knows its master is going to reprimand it harshly for failure. I kind of feel for the guy (and I definitely feel for Shimmin – what she was hard and she deserves credit for that), but I really wish he'd show some independence. It's like he's playing a role rather than being an individual.

In the long run, I wonder what the fallout from that meeting is going to be. Is Shimmin now a pariah, and if so, to who? Will she turn into a true independent, splitting her votes between the two camps? Will the anti-Robinson folks give up and melt into the shadows for a bit to recover their strength? (Certainly, the vote to reinstate was a big defeat for them.) Or, perhaps, will the anti-Robinson coalition split when they realize that the process they've been following is poison, and Fisher and Sprenger seem to be amenable to the idea of a review of Robinson? Or do the members of the aforementioned coalition think that Fisher and Sprenger are wholly owned subsidiaries of Robinson, Inc., meaning that this becomes even more of a total war than it already is?

Oh, and what about the children? What about the programs that Robinson has started, and the changes he's made? Will those things take center stage now that the drama over individuals seems to have subsided, like various folks (Larry Tilford, Tom McHill) want? Or will Alexander, Fandiño, and Wineteer come back in a month or two with another crackpot scheme to shatter what little community is left in Lebanon?

One of the district's attorneys on staff made the point during the discussion about the potential timeline for the review that process is important. I think he and Sprenger and several others are using that as a sort of weapon against the anti-Robinson folks, who they think are very much “ends justify the means” sort of folks – i.e. if getting rid of Robinson is the goal, then just about anything goes in service to that end. Contrast that with people who want everything aboveboard, who want to build lines of communication and trust, who prioritize the students over anything else. The latter group might still want to get rid of Robinson at some point, but they will have a much different way of doing and they'll do it for very different reasons.

For the record, I believe that process is key, and that the means determine the ends. Bad process and bad politics will lead, in the long run, to bad outcomes. Focusing so much on the goal – getting rid of Robinson – and less on the process leads to bizarre and counterproductive things like the head of the teachers' union allying herself with someone who will probably turn on her at some point.

There's also an element of power in this whole thing, as there always is – there's definitely a struggle between Alexander, Fandiño, and Robinson. There's long been a struggle in Lebanon between the teachers and the Superintendent, and I think this is just the latest and most intense iteration, probably because Robinson has actually tipped the balance significantly in his favor (I have been told that for years the teachers actually ran the district).

Here's the thing, though: In many ways, the teachers should run the district. I have huge issues with top-down, hierarchical structures. I think the Superintendent should facilitate meeting the needs of the teachers in the classrooms, since they are doing the most direct work when it comes to educating students. That said, what happens when the teachers and the administration disagree on education policy? In Lebanon, the superintendent uses his authority to put the academy system in place. He's trying something new, something he hopes will raise student achievement levels, something new and different. The teachers disagree, and many of them never buy in. If Robinson had got their support at some point, then this whole fiasco may have never materialized. Long story short: Bad process is death, and both camps have produced bad process – Robinson for his top-down leadership style and Rick and Josh for their petty power politics.

In any case, I think Shimmin's vote represents at temporary return to sanity, but as others haven noted, until the original tensions created by Alexander/Wineteer and Robinson & his style are resolved, the respite is not a permanent one.

Finally, some meta stuff: When I started blogging about the LCSD, the school board, and the high school, my intent was not to change anything. My intent was to just write what I thought regardless of who read it (which, by the way, is pretty much the intent of the blog as a whole). However, since I was doing so in a public forum, people ran across it. I get the sense that this blog was read by plenty of folks from the LCSD and Lebanon communities, some of whom even commented. Then, later, Lebanon for Truth and Reconciliation was started by someone who has a much more intimate knowledge of events than I do, so I was no longer the only voice in blogland talking about this issue.

In some ways, events have overtaken me – my earlier posts on this subject were often calls for people to stand up against the anti-Robinson folks. That has since happened, and I am glad for it. I think in the future, I might not write as much about Lebanon as I did this summer, since there are others who are voicing thoughts and opinions similar to mine in public (and that lack of diversity of opinion is one reason I wrote about this issue at all). Also, the folks that are speaking out now are much more qualified to do so than I am.

So in the end, I want to be clear that I am not under the impression that anything I did had any sort of effect on the debate going on in Lebanon, but I am glad to see that there's been some small amount of equilibrium and sanity restored. I hope that people smarter than me continue to be engaged with what's going on in Lebanon, since that kind of civic engagement is one of the best ways to move the process forward and create trust and community in a place that desperately needs it.

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