Joe Nathan column: Critics offer helpful challenges of this column

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Two critics of columns I’ve written have been very helpful. As a person who often encourages readers to re-examine, reconsider or refine their ideas, I need to do the same. While some challenges to my columns consist mostly of four letter words, Martin Wellens and another critic who requested anonymity have suggestions that I hope will make future columns more useful.

Wellens, who reads the Sun Sailor, described a column suggesting that collaboration is one of the values we celebrate on July 4 as “the worst local column I have ever read.”

For him: “The Fourth of July celebrates our breaking apart from the Brits because we could not work together. … There was no collaborative spirit. It was the king vs. the subjects; command and obey – or else.” He believes we “celebrate our intolerance of oppressive government.” He wrote, “You disgrace and diminish the soldiers who fought for our liberty.”

When I wrote back to explain that the cooperation I was referring to was cooperation among the colonies, Wellens responded: “That explanation might be plausible, if you had mentioned the colonies working together in your original editorial. But you didn’t.”

Good point. I should have been clearer about the collaboration that I think is part of what we celebrate on July Fourth. I will try to be more explicit in future columns.

A second critic strongly disagrees with my use of the Southern Poverty Law Center as a reliable source. He wrote to me some months ago and again recently.

For more than 40 years, SPLC has filed lawsuits and challenged what it sees as intolerance and hatred. (More information is available at https://www.splcenter.org.)

In part, this person believes that SPLC is not a “fair and impartial arbiter.” He disagrees with the “hate list” that the group has created. He thinks that the SPLC’s “willful ignorance of the explosion of violence from the left shows it has become nothing more than a left-wing propaganda machine that exists to stigmatize and target those it disagrees with.“

In the case of the column he mentioned, I cited SPLC’s online survey. It reported that 10,000 educators responded. Among other things, “80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.” As I talked with and listened to teachers in Minnesota and around the country, I heard similar concerns.

However, as I explained to this critic, I find some of SPLC’s statements reliable and others questionable. For example, I’ve read that at least one person who SPLC describes as an “anti-Muslim” extremist has changed some of her views.

But going beyond the SPLC, this critic caused me to think about two fundamental questions: What is the truth? And how we decide what to believe? One important task for families and educators is to help young people answer these questions.

So, thanks to this critic, an upcoming column will discuss how we can help youngsters consider these questions. Meanwhile, I would welcome readers’ thoughts about how they’ve helped young people learn to sort through the virtually limitless information now available to them.

Thank you to the two critics and many others who write with questions, comments and challenges. I’m not able to respond in depth to each person, but you help me become a better writer and, I hope, make this column more useful to readers.

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

 

8 Responses to Joe Nathan column: Critics offer helpful challenges of this column

  1. Joe,
    This is not so much about your column which I find very thoughtful and clear enough for most people. All of us who write can do better at writing whether with more revisions, having a helpful editor or just another re-write. My comment here has to do with the phrase “fair and impartial.” I am very “partial” about issues of poverty, social justice, inequities in education, health care and the awful way we treat the environment and those are just for starters. When you care deeply about making things better and improving the quality of life it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to be “fair and impartial.” So it is with organizations that are passionate about certain issues and you can argue another point of view for just about anything. So, my friend, keep writing and calling attention to those issues you believe need attention whether from legislators, activists or colleagues out here in the field. Thanks for your continuing good work.

  2. Anti-SPLC Extremist says:

    The “anti-muslim extremist” referred to unnamed in this column is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Mz. Ali has spent her adult life fighting against the practices of genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, and underage brides. She herself is a victim of genital mutilation. It defies common sense that Mz. Ali would be considered an “extremist” for opposing this horrible oppression of women and girls. That she would be branded as such by the SLPC says more about the SLPC than it does Mz. Ali.

    Mz. Ali continues to speak on these issues despite threats of physical violence from muslim radicals and left-wing thugs (who, coincidentally, take their marching orders from orgs like the SPLC) right here in America. For this, women’s march organizer, prominent liberal, and muslim Linda Sarsour said Ali should “have her vagina taken away.”

    This information is widely available to anyone who cares to look it up.

    Perhaps now readers can have a better idea of the kind of person the SPLC labels an “anti-muslim extremist.” One can only assume that if she started showing more SUPPORT for the brutalization of girls and women, the SPLC would celebrate her and remove her from their “hate” list.

    The SPLC is a joke and instantly diminishes the credibility of any journalist who relies on their “statistics.”

    • Sarah Peterson says:

      (Editor’s note: Several people were listed under this label by the SPLC, not just Ali. Many news outlets have covered the release of this list and the response to it.)

      • Anti-SPLC Extremist says:

        Sarah,

        The only one mentioned in the column is Ali, though she goes unnamed, making it all but impossible for readers to judge for themselves the veracity of the SPLC’s claim. Thank you for pointing out that “many news outlets” are using the statistics provided by the SPLC. It speaks to the degree to which the credibility of today’s media has been compromised.

  3. Joe Nathan says:

    Thanks to Gary, Sarah and the SPLC critic who have commented. A few reactions.

    1. “Fair and impartial.” Yes, I agree that it’s important for a columnist to try to be fair. That’s part of why I try in columns where I criticize a policy or action, to acknowledge and briefly describe the rationale for the action that I’m questioning. It’s why I quote critics from time to time.

    2. Re the SPLC. As noted in the column, I agree with the SPLC on some issues and not on others. I think the woman noted in “Anti-SPLC’s” comments seems like someone who has changed her views at various times.

    While wikipedia is not a perfect source, its article on this woman is fascinating. I encourage interested people to read it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali

    I think Ms. Ali has made some extreme statements such as in a 2007 newspaper interview “we are at war with Islam, and there is no middle ground in wars.”

    However, it appears that she has changed her mind about some things and as a more recent article explains, “she no longer completely rejects Islam.

    While I’m not an expert on this person, I do she is more complicated that the SPLC article about her.

    I’ve also seen excellent education materials produced by SPLC about “teaching tolerance.”

    The anti-SPLC activist has convinced me I should write a column about helping young people learn to determine who and what to believe. I hope the column will be both interesting and useful.

    Thanks again to the folks who commented.

  4. Joe Nathan says:

    Thanks to Gary, Sarah and the SPLC critic who have commented. A few reactions.

    1. “Fair and impartial.” Yes, I agree that it’s important for a columnist to try to be fair. That’s part of why I try in columns where I criticize a policy or action, to acknowledge and briefly describe the rationale for the action that I’m questioning. It’s why I quote critics from time to time.

    2. Re the SPLC. As noted in the column, I agree with the SPLC on some issues and not on others. I think the woman noted in “Anti-SPLC’s” comments seems like someone who has changed her views at various times.

    While wikipedia is not a perfect source, its article on this woman is fascinating. I encourage interested people to read it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali

    I think Ms. Ali has made some extreme statements such as in a 2007 newspaper interview “we are at war with Islam, and there is no middle ground in wars.”

    However, it appears that she has changed her mind about some things and as a more recent article explains, “she no longer completely rejects Islam.

    While I’m not an expert on this person, I do she is more complicated that the SPLC article about her.

    I’ve also seen excellent education materials produced by SPLC about “teaching tolerance.”

    The anti-SPLC activist has convinced me I should write a column about helping young people learn to determine who and what to believe. I hope the column will be both interesting and useful.

    Thanks again to the folks who commented.

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