Joe Nathan Column: Swift, strong, split reactions to recent columns

Joe Nathan column – There were swift, strong and split reactions to two of my recent columns. They are online at and

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

More than 20 people responded, via comments online and other ways, from around Minnesota and from Utah to Washington, D.C. Here are several of those comments, with brief reactions from me.

Darren Beck, an educator who has worked with district and charter educators wrote: “Nationwide, these are the questions that need to be asked and, as you pointed out, answered with a well-defined plan for the changes needed. Right, Left, Center, Ed Reformers or Traditionalists or Cutting Edge types, no one is exempt from seriously considering these issues as they impact our Republic.”

He continued: “I fail to see how the next decade or so of effort to improve public education can possibly do so without leaving ‘sides’ or ‘camps’ behind. The camp we need to be in is to improve what our young people have as choices from Pre-K to post graduate studies because that investment of money and effort will shore up how we keep the promise of America, in my humble opinion.”

Think about our successful landing on the moon, or our effort to expand civil rights, or the invention of vaccines that dramatically reduced, if not eliminated diseases like polio or smallpox. These were not Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative efforts. They were efforts that brought people together with a clear focus on solving problems. That is part of what Beck urges. I agree.

Nevertheless, we won’t always agree with each other. Some ideas are better than others. Some approaches work better with some young people. Research and experience convince me that there’s no single best approach for all young people.

Some people didn’t like what they read. Two readers disagreed with the idea that charters are public schools. I’d simply point out that the 42 state legislatures that have adopted a charter law made them part of the state’s program of public education.

Minnesota’s system of public education now includes the opportunity for students to enroll in:

– Their local district or charter schools within a district.

– Districts or charters outside a district of residence.

– The statewide Perpich arts school.

– A statewide school for students who are deaf.

– Schools created by collaborations of districts.

– At the 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade levels, courses taught on higher education campuses.

– Collaborations designed to bring together students of different races and economic backgrounds.

So free public education is no longer just what’s available at the local neighborhood public (district) school.

One reader also made a few comments about my character.  Editors and I agree that I won’t respond to personal attacks online through columns.

Many years ago, when I was a Minnesota public school assistant principal, students gave me a poster reading “Behold the turtle … who makes progress only when sticking its neck out.” Schools, communities, states and countries sometimes need to do that.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,

  • Tom King

    You know a column is worth reading when it causes readers to voice their opinions, no matter what they say.

    The whole point of writing a piece is to get folks to think about critical issues, whether they agree with you or not.

    Charters bring choices to parents and students; for many kids this makes all the difference in the world. Public schools can offer choices too, and have often found the same result.

    Aren’t you glad you live in a country where you can read what you want, form your own opinions, and stick your neck out to say what you think?

    I am.

  • Tom Totushek @themathprophet

    I’m sad to hear that there were personal attacks because of something you wrote. Lots of cowards behind keyboards like to denigrate people to try and make their point stronger. Lack of civil discourse is one of the problems that faces us when we try to solve the kinds of large problems that face us as a society.

  • Darren Beck

    While flattered to be quoted by a man I have grown to admire over the years, I am exasperated by the unwillingness of people to check the time wasted on disagreement and instead focus on how to support ALL students in the best ways possible. No one way does it for every kid.

    And I fail, as many times as I have read past columns and comments, to see where or how or why it matters how Dr. Nathan makes his living as to the points he makes about education. Regardless of his earnings, let’s all stick to focusing on the challenge at hand. Disagree for the sake of disagreement, but let’s also understand he is saying what others, regardless of camp, are also saying about public education.

    I know Joe Nathan to be a genuinely committed educator regardless of his income. It is something he feels devoutly. His life’s work has been to educate students that have been entrusted to his care. And full disclosure, I work as a charter school leader in Utah, but I do not receive a dime from Joe Nathan nor any other charter or ed choice leader here in this state nor from any national organization working in this area. I am paid below what school leaders in Utah at comparable schools are paid, but I will challenge any of them to compare time spent at work to make my school one of the best. I do it, much like Joe, because I believe deeply in education’s potential to transform lives. If someone wants to pay me more for my opinion and work efforts to deliver on the promise of public education, why is that bad?

    Again, flattered to have Joe feel my comments were worth a mention. I only hope I have the staying power he has to do his best to improve the options for all students and all families. Yes, it is great to live in a country where differing opinions can be expressed, but it is even greater to live where we can all hopefully get over our differences and focus on giving future generations the start they need through education.

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