(note: This rebuttal was posted Saturday in the comment section of the Newkirk editorial. This version has been modified slightly to better fit our blog format.)
In Friday’s Denver Post, John Newkirk published an editorial, giving his, Ken Witt’s, and Julie Williams view of the week that made the majority of JeffCo parents very proud of their kids. Needless to say, since it is their proposed “Curriculum Review Committee” that sparked the protests, Mr. Newkirk’s portrayal is not flattering. That is to be expected.
What is not to be expected, or at least SHOULD not be expected is how fast and loose Mr. Newkirk seems to have played with the truth. Through careful excision of facts, overly broad generalizations, logical fallacies, and baseless emotional appeals, Mr. Newkirk is making his attempt at doing locally what Ms. Williams proposal would do nationally – re-writing history to suit them.
Since Mr. Newkirk felt duty bound to remind us of the “mantle of responsibility” that we as parents are aware of, our sense of that responsibility compels us to go over his editorial and point out where he did less than his most honest best.
Below is the text of his editorial, in quotes. After each paragraph are our comments.
Crowds of high school students have carried signs and gathered along busy streets during what should have been normal school days in Jefferson County. Our community members who witnessed or heard about these protests deserve to know the rest of the story.”
Of course the ‘rest of the story’ phrase is meant to harken back to Paul Harvey, a much beloved radio announcer who started broadcasting in World War II. It is meant to imply that there is more to things than meets the eye and he, John Newkirk, is about to tell you some deep, dark secrets.
This is a very old tactic. Pretend that you are going to ‘lift the veil’ so as to better hide what you don’t want seen.
After all, few things kindle more passion in a parent’s heart than the education and well-being of our children. This is a good thing. It’s a sign that we, as parents, understand society’s mantle of responsibility will all too soon be passed to the next generation — and we want them to be ready.”
This is a platitude, uttered to try and get you emotionally lined up with him before he even tells you something of substance.
As a new Jeffco School Board member, it’s surreal for me to walk the halls of the schools I attended decades ago. While my memories of those years are fading, the faces in the schools are fresh and there’s an energy, eagerness, and passion to learn that I find inspiring.”
Another platitude. We are three paragraphs into the 12 paragraph editorial and he has said nothing of substance yet. Instead, he has devoted the first 25% of it to working on your emotions.
“Regrettably, however, not every Jeffco student is getting what he or she needs to succeed in today’s global environment. Recent achievement data indicate that fewer than 60 percent of our graduates are college- and career-ready in math and science. Only a third are proficient in writing, and nearly 30 percent of our graduates need remedial work before they enter college. While there are many Jeffco students who fall outside these disturbing trends — and they have earned our applause — far too many are left behind. This reality has to change.”
Okay, here is the first actual data. He spouts off a bunch of numbers…without giving you the context in which to place them. Context is vital when it comes to changing data into knowledge. If you took out a loan that charged you $100 of interest a year, it might seem reasonable…until you found out that the loan was for just $10. Your reaction, now that the data has been placed in context, is very different. If the loan had been for $100,000 then your reaction would be different again.
So Newkirk is giving you raw data without a context to give it meaning. He is not telling you that JeffCo is above the state average in most of those rankings, nor that JeffCo has a greater percentage of its high schools making the U.S. News & World Report Top High School list than any other group or district in the state.
That being said, should the District work on improving those numbers? Absolutely! But that is not really in dispute. It’s sort of like us Coloradans saying to each other, “Boy, I sure hope the snow pack is better this year than it was last year!” We applaud the sentiment, but it is hardly in dispute.
Finally, he misuses the words “trends”. He used it in such a manner as to imply that things are getting worse. This is the exact opposite from what is really happening. Key JeffCo test scores improved in the last year. Do we want them to improve more? Yes! We also want the Broncos to do better in the playoffs against the Seahawks this year. He is pretending there is opposition to improving things when in fact there is none. We ALL want things to improve.
My physics teacher taught me that for every action, there is a reaction. How little I realized the degree to which this applies to public policy. The reaction to a new board majority of non-union candidates has been loud and prolonged. This is, I suppose, largely due to fear of the unknown and change in the status quo.”
Now we start getting to the real thrust of his writing. Note, he said a “board majority of non-union candidates”. This is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts. He is implying that the previous boards were dominated by union members. Nothing could be further from the truth. His logic, no doubt, was that since the previous Boards actually worked with JCEA (which is actually not a union) instead of trying to get out of its Collective Bargaining Agreement with them, those boards must have been dominated by ‘union’ board members. Mr. Newkirk seems to dismiss out of hand that the District might find working with highly trained professionals in pursuit of commonly held goals is not possible.
Logical or not, it is a statement designed to lead you to a false conclusion. He then goes on to say that the reason for the growing opposition to him and the rest of WNM+Williams agenda is because the opposition is comfortable and is cowardly.
This is a straw man tactic, a logical fallacy (check it out in Wikipedia). He defines for you what the opposition is, using deliberate misleading statements. The follow-up to it will be a dismantling of this opponent made from his straws, and then he declares that he has won.
First year high school debaters recognize this trick.
“The situation has erupted in the past week, first with a teacher sickout at two high schools, then student walkouts at several others. While the board and our district leaders value the voices of students, cutting class to make a political statement is a different matter, especially when union-led teachers have misinformed those students rather than encouraged them to exercise critical thinking skills.”
There are three separate exclusion of facts, one serious downplaying of events, one outright falsehood, and one concluding gross misrepresentation in that paragraph.
He did not say that the sick out was after he, Williams, and Witt unilaterally, with no consultation with the teachers, no public comment, and no in-depth financial analysis, unilaterally imposed a radical new compensation plan on the teachers, and tied it to an evaluation system their own ‘fact finder’ found to be so inconsistent and inaccurate as to be of no value.
He did not say that the sick out was also after Julie Williams made her proposal for the “Curriculum Review Committee” that, contrary to the agenda title, was not to review Common Core, PARCC, and AP U.S. History, but to review ALL JeffCo curriculum for their version of political and scientific correctness. “Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” AP U.S. History was simply the first subject to be targeted, with 5th Grade Health Sciences being the second (can you say “sex education”?).
He did not say that the first student walk-outs were on the same day the of the teacher sick-out and that it was in support of their high school teachers and in opposition to the proposed “Curriculum Review Committee”.
He downplayed the extent of the walk-outs, not mentioning that it happened over six school days, in 16 of 17 high schools, and that it concluded with students of all grades attending class as persons from American history who caused ‘civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law’ and by doing so, made us into a better nation and people!
He alleges that the students were misled by their teachers…and offers no proof other than his assertion. On the other side, if you go to the various FaceBook pages the students put together to coordinate their walkouts, you will find over and over again that this was student conceived, organized, and executed. Anyone who saw Lakewood High School’s winning Katy Perry lip-dub video last fall KNOWS these are highly capable young men and women.
Finally, to say the high school students of JeffCo did not use critical-thinking skills simply because they did use them…and concluded your position is wrong and dangerous, is at best Aesop’s Sour Grapes, and at worst a deliberate belittling of our kids.
We will concede that Mr. Newkirk, or his PR writer knows how to pack a lot of distortion into a small paragraph.
For example, the revised AP U.S. History framework has been widely criticized for leaving out key parts of our nation’s underlying story, yet when board member Julie Williams suggested engaging the community in this discussion via a curriculum review committee (hardly a new practice), she and the board were instantly accused of “censorship.” No action has been taken on either the committee or the curriculum, but that didn’t stop opponents of the board majority from exploiting these flash protests to overshadow the truly positive stories.”
In this paragraph, Mr. Newkirk is slipping. He only managed to squeeze in one misleading factual exclusion, one gross misrepresentation, one self-contradiction while trying for an uninformative hyperbole, and one deliberate misrepresentation, all in a longer paragraph.
Only the right wing has been critical, with Texas being the most extreme…until Julie Williams proposal, which actually goes further than the Texas one.
This committee, per her proposal would not represent the community. Instead, it would have been made up of people that Witt, Newkirk, and Williams selected (since they would outvote Dahlkemper and Fellman). In short, it would represent WNW, not JeffCo.
Also there are already two review committees made up of parents, teachers, and
District staff, as well as formal process for a parent to use when they object to the use of a particular textbook.
The phrase “exploiting these flash protests’ is interesting. Newkirk was strongly hinting in the previous paragraph, and his confederates, Witt and Williams, have outright said that the protests were JCEA led. Yet here, Newkirk says they were ‘flash protests’, which implies they were sudden (instead of planned) and unexpected (instead of led). Which way is it, Mr. Newkirk? Finally, he tries to get you to believe that this proposal is genuinely a ‘good thing’ by saying it’s virtues were ‘overshadow’ed.
He implies the Board really took no action. He does not say that is because their own attorney, Brad Miller, told them they could not proceed since the original title was misleading! Even then, Ken Witt tabled the motion to a later date. This has not gone away. WNW is simply waiting for a better time.
Effectively, in this paragraph, Newkirk realizes he has a loser if the real content and purpose of the proposal is known. So he tries to hide 95% of the poison, and disguise the remaining 5% as a harmless substance.
To cite just a few examples, for the first time in years this board has taken steps to equalize charter student funding and increase teacher pay. We’ve upped entry-level salaries by up to 13 percent and approved significant raises for all our effective teachers.
“In contrast, in 2011, the prior board cut compensation by 3 percent. There were no teacher sickouts then. In 2012 and 2013, the board froze salaries and, once again, there were no sickouts or protests.”
Now we are back to the citing statistics without context (actually a VERY good way to mislead people).
Of course the previous boards cut the teachers pay in 2011 and then froze it in 2012 and 2013. Those boards actually worked with JCEA in this because the Recession had cut school district funds so drastically. Note, that Newkirk also left out the that the District then made an explicit promise for a return to step pay increases (which their comp plan does not do) as soon as revenues recovered. Unfortunately for the teachers, that did not happen before WNW took over. And WNW does not think that they are bound by any commitment given in the District’s name.
For the third ear in a row now, our two veteran board members have not approved a teacher pay raise, but curiously the protests are directed only at the three new board members. It makes no sense until you put it in the political context of a new era in Jefferson County, an era in which the teachers union no longer controls the Board of Education.”
A regurgitation of the misrepresentation in the fourth paragraph plus the failure to provide context in the previous paragraph, all wrapped up in a overly broad and unsubstantiated concluding sentence. In short, re-heated leftovers that were not any good the first time.
Shortly before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln admonished Congress that “as our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Here is the taken out of context historical quote that Newkirk loves pulling up. Lincoln was, of course, talking about the first step in freeing black Americans from slavery – an action that in large part got started because of the civil disobedience, willingness to cause social strife, and disregard for the law of many, many people who sheltered runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. This is a far cry from trying to blame public reaction to their effort to censor American history on teachers. Mr. Newkirk might want to be careful if he ever visits the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The sheer effrontery of him using this quote might cause the building to quake.
It’s time to disenthrall ourselves with policies of the past that are leaving far too many students behind. Only then will we embrace what can be a very bright future for our children and thus, for our nation.”
His empty summary that actually says nothing about why JeffCo students chose to protest him and his cohorts. He even does not perceive the irony of him defending a highly edited past, while telling us we must leave the past behind.
We would also advise him to ‘disenthrall’ himself from the use of ‘disenthrall’. Even if he knows the true meaning, it is pretty pretentious, not to mention repetitious.
Our Final Comments: As we said before, the real sad part of this editorial is the fact that we are not surprised by it. It is entirely in keeping with Witt, Newkirk, Williams, and Miller wanting to keep their dark doings dark, all while not being troubled with small things, such as honesty, respect, or integrity.