I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bennett Whines About "Tone"

No one has been a bigger critic of Chris Christie than yours truly. But if you go back through this blog, you'll find I've never once made a crack about his weight. Part of that is simple decency; part is my being close to Christie's age and knowing first hand how hard it can be to get enough exercise.

But the primary reason I don't bring up Christie's waistline is that it's not relevant. He hasn't attacked others for their appearance (as far as I know), and he hasn't pushed policies that punish or reward people based on their size. Why, then, would I bring up a personal matter about the governor when it's not germane? It would be gratuitous and unwarranted, so I don't do it.

On the other hand, I have made what can be described fairly as a personal attack on Christie regarding the choices he and his wife have made for their own children's education. Bringing Christie's kids into it is, admittedly, as personal as it gets. So why is that different? Simple: because it's relevant.

This is a guy who has been cutting school funding for New Jersey's children - particularly our poor children - while complaining about education spending every chance he gets. Yet he sends his own kids to a beautiful, exclusive private school that spends gobs more money than the public schools; a school that doesn't have to educate children who are at-risk or have special needs or who don't speak English at home, the most expensive children to educate.

That is hypocrisy of the highest order. Is pointing that out personal? You bet it is: it speaks directly to the man's character. But is it unwarranted? No, not at all: it's directly relevant to his actions, policies, and words. You can argue over the tone with which I point this out, but understand that is no more than a matter of taste. What shouldn't be in dispute is that the thrust of this "personal" attack is both fair and relevant. Whining about "tone" becomes a way to avoid a criticism that is, without question, germane to the debate.

I bring all this up because we've had a couple of remarkable examples of whining about "tone" this week in reformy circles. The most well-known, of course, is the spectacular spasm of self-righteous indignation that came from Florida's recently-departed education chief, Tony Bennett. I imagine most readers here now know the story of Bennett's grade changing scandal; how he changed the evaluation of a charter school in contradiction to his own staff's assessment.

Bennett, in the tradition of all American politicians caught in a scandal, went before the cameras to deliver a non-apology apology that went heavy on the mea and light on the culpa:
Tony Bennett announced his immediate resignation at a news conference, saying that he while he did nothing wrong he didn't want to be a distraction to ongoing efforts to overhaul Florida's education system. Emails published by The Associated Press this week show that Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan's school received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C. 
Bennett called that interpretation "malicious and unfounded" and said he would call for Indiana's inspector general to look into the allegations because he is certain he will be cleared of wrongdoing. 
He said it would be unfair to Gov. Rick Scott "to have to spend my time and the State Board (of Education's) time, as things continue to trickle out, defending myself." He called the allegations "politically motivated." He said the decision to step down was his and that both Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush had urged him to remain on the job. [emphasis mine]
The problem with Bennett's screed is that the facts are not in dispute. He gamed the system to change the grade for a school that did not perform well on the state's Algebra test; even his staff said so. That school was founded by Christel DeHaan, a well-known contributor to Republican politicians, including Bennett himself. He claims he didn't act unethically, that he would never do such a thing - but his actions and his words are there for all to see.

Are the allegations against Bennett "politically motivated"? Maybe, but so what? He did what he did, and he got caught. It's not "malicious" to make a connection between DeHaan's support and his scrambling to change the grade, any more than it's "unfounded" to point out that Bennett's wife, Tina, now works at the for-profit corporation he chose to run some of Indianapolis's schools.

A personal attack? Yeah, OK; I wouldn't use the word "attack," but it's certainly personal. But it's also relevant; it's warranted; it matters. Bennett may now be coming to the good Lord about making the education debate about policy instead of personality (watch towards the end of the video, if you can take it), but that doesn't make the questions about his personal integrity - and how that reflects on his policies - any less germane.

The default position of the "reform" movement is that teachers and their unions are not to be trusted; all reformy policies flow from this axiom. Well, live by questioning motivations, die by questioning motivations. If you spend your day impugning the motives of teachers and their unions, don't be surprised when karma comes back around and bites you in the butt.

From one guy who impugns the motives of teachers and their unions...

...to another.


Pete Zucker said...

Wow, now I feel guilty about those videos.

Anyway, you bring up good point. I posted information that a press conference was about to happen and have been reamed in comment section of my blog; http://www.southbronxschool.com/2013/07/rally-and-presser-on-august-1-for.html especially comment at 6:09 this morning from Anonymous.

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