Friday, June 27, 2014

On Resignations, Civility, and Rational Debate

Recently, the president of the ICCSD Board of Education resigned her position. She did so for "personal reasons," and many individuals have speculated that the caustic nature of our civil discourse was a significant contributor to her resignation. I am hesitant to speculate about her motivations, but I do know that all of our directors put in a substantial number of hours in service to the district and there is a great deal of conflict that often comes with the position. So, it is reasonable interpretation.

I also agree that the caustic character of our community's disagreements about education is unfortunate. It inhibits rational debate and deliberation about controversial topics. And for my money, I believe it is much more important for someone to engage in public discourse and argumentation properly than for that person to have the correct opinion about a particular subject matter.

So, how should rational deliberation take place? The best place to start is to understand what happens when real communication has taken place (I'm channeling my inner J. Habermas, in case you can't tell). If I've successfully communicated something to Person B, here's what must have happened:

  1. I said something that meant something.
  2. I presented something that I believe to be true.
  3. I presented something that is about our shared world together.
  4. I wanted to reach an agreement with Person B about my statement.
As such, an attempt at communication can fail is for any one of these four reasons. Now, for two people to participate in rational debate, it is necessary for both interlocutors to assume that the other is trying to communicate in this way. Otherwise, one or more of the parties is just trying to manipulate the other.

What do I mean by that?

If someone is incapable of uttering meaningful sentences, then there can be no rational deliberation. If I believe that Person B is not presenting what she takes to be true, but only what is political expedient, then there can be no rational deliberation. If I believe that Person C only makes a certain claim because of his geographical location, then there can be no rational deliberation. If my goal in making my claim is to make another person look bad, then there can be no rational deliberation. If I assume that there is always a malicious ulterior motive lying behind each of Person D's statements, then there can be no rational deliberation.

If you say you support rational deliberation, then you should engage in public and private argumentation in accord with these assumptions. You must assume that people are presenting ideas and thoughts they believe to be true. You must assume that they are trying to convince you that their view is right. If you can't do those things, then you are inhibiting rational deliberation.

So, I encourage all of us, for the sake of rational deliberation and rational debate, to assume the best about our interlocutors. Particularly those with whom you disagree. Assume that they are presenting what they think is true. Assume that they are expressing their view to convince you or other participants in the dialogue.

But what if your interlocutor is violating these four assumptions? Does that mean that the nature of rational deliberation changes? Does that mean we can stop assuming the best about their arguments? Does that mean that we should respond like for like?

I'm not naive enough to think that everyone is really interested in rational deliberation in this sense. Some people will be trying to manipulate the system. Some people will use strategic means to reach a desired outcome without going through a legitimate deliberative or democratic procedure. In such a case, there is no rational deliberation, since the other person is violating one or more of the assumptions, but at least you aren't the reason why there is no rational deliberation. In that circumstance, we would do well to engage their arguments, to engage in the dialogue assuming the best about them, even if we are wrong.


38 comments:

  1. These are good points. I especially agree that it makes sense to respond to the content of someone else’s arguments, whatever your suspicion may be about their underlying motives.

    An interesting post on this same topic is here.

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  2. Chris, thanks for the comment. I think you are right about the primary take-away (at least practically) from Habermas' theory.

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  3. Instead of spreading petty interfactional attacks, Michael, shouldn’t we all make an honest attempt to see how this plays out? In a country where an individual is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Shouldn’t intelligent human beings keep an open mind until they see what unfolds instead of jumping on another chance to make accusatory assumptions in order to try to blame one “faction” for the shameful abdication. I gotta say, it’s some poor comic acting coming from the upwardly mobile players in the ICCSD civil war, those lusting the most for Sally’s vacant seat, to use the situation to point the finger of blame at anyone but the president herself…the president herself and what may have been, or perhaps will become, her liability for potentially unethical and illegal actions in violation of Iowa Open Meeting Law or other Iowa Law. She wouldn’t be the first one on the board that has broken the law but she’d probably be a little more capable of sincere remorse for it would be my guess. Why, she might even step down suddenly?
    While in the most recent incarnation of the board only 2 of “the rule of 4” (Swesey, Hoelscher) remained, from the many statements made by at least 3 other board members, and the public, the remaining 2 appear to have worked for Murley and not the other way around…as consummated by a contract the likes of which nobody I know has been able to find another superintendent with in this state. A contract which essentially has codified the reversal of the reporting relationship between superintendent and board. This became even more problematic with Hoelsher and Swesey seeming to have all intent to grant Murley his every wish, as evidenced by their voting patterns amongst other things.
    There’s also her own role in causing the most caustic superintendent/board vs. public relationship that I’ve ever seen. The “best” think anyone could do would be to make a detailed timeline of events to compare superintendent/board actions to public response. Patti had an extremely unpopular presidential battle when she tried to ban public signs in the board meetings, but she still handled her role with decorum, civility, basic courtesy, fairly and without discrimination, and she did it by the book. She also tolerated dissent, understanding that even if she didn’t like it that it was part of the process whether or not it did anything to change her mind or her vote. You know, until she had it moved to the end of the board meetings right before Murley arrived, if I remember correctly. Still, she certainly never barked at speakers or tried to restrict anyone from speaking during their 3 minutes of community comment. Two meetings back, the entire audience laughed at Sally as she barked at and threatened ALL of them and threatened to shut the meeting down and eject everyone (paraphrased but accurate).
    Sally on the other hand, from day one of her presidency, began pushing to discuss, per Murley from all appearances, how the board might begin to restrict both community comment and individuals from community comment. She had started earlier, as part of the “rule of 4” which, in an unprecedented manner, began, along with Jeff McGinness, to engage in censorship of the public speakers they disagreed with in a variety of forms, such as interrupting them, arguing with them, waiting till they sat down and then either mischaracterizing what the speaker had just said or doing their best to discredit it without regard to accuracy, or the fact that doing so, even after the speaker is turned away from the mic, is also a form of inappropriate discussion.

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  4. The moment Sally became president she began abusing her position to manipulate the discussion of the censorship policy…keeping it as un-transparent as possible, first, in what she seemed to think she could keep the public out of…the board retreat. I taped that one, not one member of the press or the goon squad was there. Just Phil and I went, because, we knew exactly what they were trying to do, what Murley was trying to do. Phil and I began to speak more frequently only when our rights were being threatened. We did so, not to even defend our rights, but because the board was too busy focusing all their efforts on shutting down community comment instead of their jobs, like, um, knowing when we were having an alleged budget crisis far enough in advance to actually engage the public and the teachers union etc., in the solutions. Pay no attention to the Murley bait and switch behind that curtain.
    Several months before that board retreat, Murley told me he would harm me if I was publicly critical about school district related issues at any point in the future. Shortly before the election really kicked into gear he called me after I’d offered an olive branch for the duration of the election. Surprisingly, his answer to the olive branch was that if I ever spoke critically, that if I said anything about results of a FOIA I’d initiated for him with his assistance (though he’d already read me the email over the phone), that if I said anything critical of him, his work, or any of the work of the administration, that he considered that, in his own words, “causing me (him) harm”. He said that justified the following, that if I spoke of any of those things at all he would cause me harm. When I said that the FOIA was public information, he threatened me with the identical words a second time in a very slow, deep, malicious tone enunciating each word as a threat…he said, “Let me make this very clear, I WILL CAUSE YOU HARM!”
    He certainly did his best to cause me harm after that didn’t he. He did it with lots of help from Sally, Marla, Jeff, Brian, and Chris who all supported the censorship policy as they pretended it was just about being a set of instructions of how to’s for people new to the process. Most of all though, he had help from his board HR PR lawyer, Chace Ramey, who co-wrote the “board’s” censorship policy behind closed doors with Superintendent Murley. Yes that censorship policy, the one Murley is on camera in a board meeting saying he didn’t write (though Chace had no problem remembering it and narking Murley off to Tuyet 30 seconds later). Yes, that policy, the one Murley said, on camera, that he can’t remember anyone in his administration doing it (when he and Chace wrote it behind closed doors allegedly just the two of them?). Yes, the same one Murley couldn’t remember if the REAL board lawyer, Joe Holland, EVER EVEN SAW THE DRAFT OF OR ANY VERSION FOR THAT MATTER…as he said in a recorded committee meeting shortly after the board meeting where Chace ratted him out on the stand.
    Michael, perhaps before you blah, blah, blah rationalize out how deliberation should take place or pontificate on the, as you said, “caustic character of our community's disagreements about education”, yes, perhaps you should look for the root cause, the reasons (which are public and visible as opposed to what may be floating to the surface in Sally’s maximum wake as she jumps ship) that the dialogue between superintendent/board vs. public has become what it has? Cause guess, what, the emperor isn’t wearing a lovely new suit at all…the more vocal public critical evaluators with the most historical background on the district and the very, very long civil war here just aren’t able to pretend that he is, and they don’t want their district’s funds spent on invisible new fancy suits.

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  5. Julie: Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that vigorous debate is a public good and should be encouraged and protected. Furthermore, it should be protected, even when it violates these four assumptions of communication. Perhaps that isn't clear in the original post, in which case, that's my mistake.

    I also believe that, from a policy and decision-making standpoint, it is important to focus on the merits of the policy or proposal itself. I disagreed with the addition to the speaking policy because I thought (a) it communicated indirectly that public debate and deliberation was, at best, a necessary evil -- whereas I think it is a public good, (b) as a result, it would likely have had a chilling effect on speech, even if the policy was not applied, and (c) people tend to be biased against views they disagree with and the policy would have likely been applied in an unjust and unfair manner were it applied.

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    1. Beautifully said Michael.

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  6. Michael, nice save. I'm just curious about something, hope you don't mind me asking. Do you know anyone personally who would prefer that some community members like Ms. Van Dyke and Mr. Hemmingway be blocked in some way from speaking at school board meetings ( I already know the answer to this)? Might this be the reason you are suggesting that the reason for board president Hoelscher's resignation might be due to the "caustic nature of our civil discourse" ?

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    1. Anon 12:19: I'm having a hard time understanding your last sentence, and as a result your comment. From the tone, I take it you are implying both that I have some friend who is actively trying to prevent Julie or Phil was being able to speak at board meetings, and that the reason I made this blog post was to offer support to that friend against Julie and Phil.

      If that is your point (I'm not sure that it is?), then I don't know what friend you are speaking of and I think you missed the point of my post.

      My point was to encourage those who say they support civility and better public discourse to not assume the worst about other people. That would apply to many of the people who have been particularly critical of Julie and Phil.

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    2. That's how I understood it. I'm sure you would apply the same standard to Julie and Phil, too. But under your logic (which I agree with), a board that reacts to "caustic" speech at public meetings by trying to ban it, rather than by engaging it and making counterarguments, wouldn't qualify as "civil."

      Kinda funny, though, that people seem to be assuming the worst about your post.

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    3. Chris, yes, I think Phil and Julie should apply these standards to themselves, but I don't think there is any inconsistency in them not doing so. I've never heard either call others out for lack of civility or not engaging in public debate. Perhaps calls for transparency could be interpreted as the latter?

      If everyone who purports to support civility and public debate operated according to these assumptions about deliberation, I think having a few outliers who do not would be inconsequential.

      I also agree that banning speech as opposed to identifying the substantive components of it and engaging those parts of it (at least) wouldn't qualify as "civil" or "rational debate." That's true by definition, I think!

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    4. Michael, I wish you had been a little more vocal in your opinions as the attacks on Phil and me by Sally, Marla, Brian, Jeff, Chris Lynch, Murley and Ramey were occurring. Though your skills are different than Chris's, and Chris was incredibly generous of his time explaining previous first amendment law precedents and his expert opinion, you seem pretty much of a similar disposition toward the potentially illegal policy (since board policy is to be written by the board, not by district administration behind closed doors), I'm also in agreement with your reasoning and points of view as expressed in the above comments as I read them. Again though, I would point out...though Phil and I have spoken to multiple incarnations of the board over the years, there had never been the level of acrimony that was created by Murley's move to push this policy as enabled by Sally, Marla, Brian, Jeff, and Chris Lynch. When Murley, as later evidenced by the policy he wrote with Chace Ramey, went after Phil and I publicly, that was just the first time ya'all had seen him in action. He'd threatened me directly multiple times and finally just went for the jugular when he could no longer control us sufficiently for his ego. Phil and I have not, at least not to my knowledge, ever threatened him in the manner I heard directly from Murley to my ear in person, by phone, by email, and then, in a shady policy he certainly appeared to lie about in a video recorded meeting and later again in an audio. In both cases, he claimed no knowledge = 1) He denied knowing where the policy had come from, he denied writing it, and he denied that he knew anyone in his administration had written it (contradicted immediately by Chace Ramey who shamefully admitted he and Murley wrote that policy together behind closed doors).

      2) In the next committee meeting of, I believe policy and engagement though I should probably check back to note the date and re-listen, Murley was asked by a board member if the board lawyer, Joe Holland, had ever even seen the policy before Murley had Marla take it to the Policy and Engagement Committee already written. AGAIN, no Chace Ramey to OUT Murley's claim of ignorance this time, Murley said he had no knowledge of whether or not Joe Holland had ever even been shown the policy, let alone reviewed it for legality. I found that one even more absurd than his last convenient amnesia. He has apparently regressed from the plausible deniability he laughed about having learned from Bill Clinton to the full on amnesia of Ronald Reagan.

      I would ask you both, what is the public to do about leadership like this. Particularly since Murley introduced this fight with his policy personally targeting Phil and me right when they should have been working on the budget crisis they hadn't yet manufactured that lead to them eliminating music classes, German classes, and jr high football. He essentially hijacked the board processes and meetings for his own personal gain, or at least because of his own personal ego and inability to respond to critical analysis of his actions and recommendations, for almost an entire school year instead of focusing his and the boards energies on the work they ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR...that mission statement they're so proud of. Well, until that mission statement rings true in more than just words, whether it's Phil, me, or others entirely new, he is going to face criticism of his poor policy and district leadership. In fact, I have never heard as many people outright slam his leadership of this district as I have over the last couple months. The tide is turning for him. I can feel it in the air.

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    5. Julie: My argument against the community comment addition was limited to backchannels and sarcastic tweets. Could I have done more? Certainly, but in my defense, the board meetings about it were conducted during and shortly after my brother's death.

      As for the substance of your comment, I don't know the law well enough to make a judgment about it's legality, but I would be very surprised if the board was required to draft every board policy it adopted. I'd certainly want to see the provision in the law that it violates, before I'd believe it. Nevertheless, the process, particularly being unwilling to talk about the means by which it came about, was practically (if not ethically) problematic, even if it was legal.

      Re: your last paragraph, I think this administration would work very well if the board was able to articulate a clearly delineated set of commitments and values (including some notion of how to order the importance of those values). Perhaps that's a mistaken judgment on my part?

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    6. Michael, not meant as criticism re: your argument about community comment, meant as appreciation for a viewpoint you expressed which I admire and appreciated. I don't really like twitter much...too much noise, so I missed your comments (though I'm often sent those of others by friends and neighbors) there.
      Re drafting, I question it as a "draft" since no board member has admitted to being a part of the "draft" that Marla brought to the P&E Committee already written and not changed more than a couple words here or there by the committee. Please review or ask Patti Fields about how board policy is "supposed" to be produced...she was pretty clear about it during the board meeting Brian Kirschling questioned that board writes board policy as well. Additionally, I would say the same thing I said at that meeting and others...where are the hundreds of indignant members of the public who were up in arms that Ed Stone even contributed towards a draft that Sarah Swisher brought to the Governance Committee who then discussed, debated, and worked on it in detail, in months of open meetings I attended? I would posit that they only care when Ed Stone contributes towards a draft since they don't apply the same standards to a policy that was not so much a draft, since no board member admits to having worked on it before it came to the P&E Committee and, EVERY board member sat there and twiddled their thumbs when Tuyet Dorau asked them all point blank if they knew where it had come from during the board meeting in which Murley conveniently forgot he had helped co-author the policy with Chace Ramey as confessed by Ramey. No, that is not a board policy, that is a reversal of the reporting relationship between board and superintendent. The superintendent may make recommendations, but no, he is not supposed to write board policy, only administrative policy. Again, please ask Patti or review the meeting Murley cowardly tries to hide his having co-authored the policy during.

      Your last paragraph, I wish I could believe that would make a difference but the board already has that codified in their own policies and the mission statement of the district...they just don't apply those commitments and values because the current majority don't seem to think they are required to follow policy, open meetings law, you know, transparent stuff like that.

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    7. Thanks for your reply, Julie. Regarding community comment, the only thing I took as a slight criticism was that I didn't speak up enough. And for what it is worth, I appreciate criticism -- even if I ultimately don't end up agreeing with the criticism. I think of it as a type of medicine. It may taste bad going down, but it is for the best.

      I agree with you that the community comment document was not properly vetted as it should have been. That judgment is based on two features: (a) the policy had relatively obvious legal and practical problems, and (b) the committee didn't see those problems and address them. Had the policy been a good policy and not had significant problems, then I think it wouldn't really matter how the draft was developed.

      Interpreting the objections about Ed Stone's role in the DP in that light would suggest that the objections were about content and procedure. That is, if the policy was crafted well, embodying the spirit of the DP (as I've argued elsewhere), then I suspect there would be few, if any objections, to where the policy came from. But, since the NC folks disagreed with the letter of the policy (at least as written), their objection to the process amounts to the claim that the board didn't give due diligence to vetting the policy.

      My guess is that many people did not see the community comment policy as a bad policy. I recall numerous people repeated the claim that it is just like the anti-bullying policy in our schools, and so, the argument goes, it can't be a mistake. Of course, it could be that both policies are bad, or it could be that there is a significant difference between what happens in the hallway at schools and from the microphone in a school board meeting.

      All that to say, I'm glad the community and the board ended up properly vetting the community comment policy, and I think most people have come around to the view that it was wrongheaded. In my opinion, that's the unforced force of the better argument at work.

      About the administration and the board: I'm not convinced that the list of values in the mission statement and board policies are sufficient without (a) clear examples of application in particular circumstances, and (b) evaluating the relationship between the various values. As I see it, the problem with the DP (and the problem with Hoover, too) is a failure of the board to perform this sort of value-oriented, public deliberation. Often they seem content to utter truisms ('we want the best opportunities for all our students' or 'we want to increase student achievement') without discussing the tradeoffs, potential conflicts, and various applications of these principles. If that work was done well, then I think the Superintendent and administration would have an easier time helping the board communicating the reasoning of the board and the administration to the public. Furthermore, despite my disagreements about Hoover's closure, I really appreciated getting into some of those value-oriented questions with the Superintendent (he expressed what he understood as the view of the board) during the school-specific FMP meetings. Still, the conversations would usually end with him claiming (roughly), "The board made that value judgment, and I can't explain why they made it. But I'm bound to follow it."

      My survey (linked a few posts back) indicates some of the questions that could inform application of the mission statement to the spirit of the DP, but that work should have been done a year ago during deliberation about the DP. Likewise, value deliberation about Hoover didn't take place on the board level until a work-session meeting in November 2013. At a minimum, that work should have been done before the initial vote in July 2013.

      Thanks again, Julie, for a fruitful exchange.

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    8. That's too much too important analysis to read before bed ;-) It would wake me up pondering. So, for now, just the one that matters, no, not a criticism that you didn't speak more publicly, instead it was wishful thinking because your perspective was incredibly lucid in the nearly lucid-free ICCSD zone. Your blog, Chris's blog, and Mary's blog make up for the near total lack of comprehension and/or complete bias of the local media coverage on the school district...which is rather absurd when you really look at how much money we are talking about, you know, for those who forget it's about the the quality of the education and are so fond of large mc-elementary schools.

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  7. Michael, I'm fairly certain that anonymouse is referring to me, despite the fact that I spoke against the comment policy.I think that the proposed policy was problematic, and that the whole area is one that the board needs to tread carefully in, and said as much in community comment when the policy was under discussion.

    It would be great though if people speaking at the mic could take a moment to consider whether the public really needs to hear every snarky attack, conspiracy theory, and stray thought about the ICCSD that comes into their head. When a regular speaker takes half an hour of meeting time themselves, spends more time making personal attacks on board members, employees, and community members than talking policy, and feels the need to throw their hands up in the air in order to let everyone in the room know when they agree or disagree with another speaker, then its a reasonable conclusion that said speaker is using the podium and the meeting for self-serving ego-driven ends that have little or nothing to do with the common good. Performances like that might be self-satisfying, but they do little to advance any goals except to drive some members of the public away entirely and to discourage people with opposing views from voicing them. Its problematic for the board to prohibit this, but absent such prohibitions, a little voluntary restraint and respect for other community members, their time, and the process as a whole, would be a welcome change.



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    1. EDJ – The main thing I’d like to know about the comments made by, for example, Julie is whether they’re accurate. If Julie’s comments are accurate, then I can’t get too worked up over the fact that they are numerous, or made in a caustic or snarky tone, or involve conspiracies, or have some kind of ego-driven origin, etc. Yet so many of the criticisms I hear of Julie just focus on tone and quantity and never get around to addressing the substance of her comments.

      As for “personal attack,” I don’t find the phrase very useful. If someone is being accurately criticized for their conduct or statements on matters of public concern, that seems like fair game. If it’s inaccurate, or about a purely private matter, then that’s a different story. So again, I’d find it more persuasive if people addressed the accuracy of the criticism, or whether it genuinely relates to matters of public concern, rather than just characterize it as a personal attack.

      For some reason, actually engaging Julie on the substance of her comments seems to be the one thing a lot of her critics can’t bring themselves to do. No wonder they’re so frustrated with her – it’s as if they’ve unilaterally disarmed themselves. I know it would be a lot of work to address every point she makes individually, but there’s really no other way to demonstrate that she’s off-base (if she is).

      Some people seem to think that ignoring Julie and Phil is the best way of “handling” them. But to ignore their substance while complaining about their tone seems like the worst of both worlds. In any event, ignoring them is a form of disrespect that is likely just to escalate the level of conflict. Even if you believe they’re being unfair, going out of your way to be fair to them (e.g., by addressing their criticisms) is the best way to try to bring down the temperature. I read that as (partly) the point of Michael’s post.

      A few meetings back, I remember Phil making a particular criticism of the administration, and then an administrator spoke up and rebutted the criticism in some detail. I don’t know who was right, and probably Phil would have had his own rebuttal, but at least I had the beginning of a way to determine who was right. Isn’t that how it should work?

      For what it’s worth, I certainly don’t *automatically* roll my eyes at claims that a public official or a private contractor is wrong or dishonorable or corrupt. Many people who take for granted that corruption occurs at the state and federal level seem to think that our local politics is somehow immune to it. I’m also perfectly willing to believe that people can make baseless accusations. I just don’t leap to either conclusion without hearing it hashed out.

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    2. Eric and Chris: I think Eric's post and Chris's reply are a great example of how one can make arguments, challenge arguments, and assume the best about the other.

      Eric's argument was that the behavior or one or more persons in our district harms public deliberation, and in light of that, those persons should, for the good of the whole district, change their behavior. He expresses some evidence from personal testimony of others for that position, and he makes it clear that he is not supporting censorship of those individuals.

      I can imagine someone wrongly assuming that such a position violates "civility" because it calls out a particular person (a complaint often expressed toward Julie and Phil). But such an interpretation would be wrong. Eric's criticism is directed against a person's behavior, but it is, at least, purported to be relevant to the quality of public deliberation. [As an aside, whether an argument against a person is fallacious depends entirely on whether the character flaws or personal failings are relevant to the conclusion being drawn. That's why Eric's criticism of Julie is not fallacious, even if one disagrees with the conclusion. Still, I think that the claims of egotism and the like are irrelevant to his conclusion, and they distract from the substance of his argument.]

      In response to Eric, Chris speaks directly to the substance of his argument. He doesn't address the tone or style of Eric's position, and he doesn't suggest that Eric has animus toward Julie or Phil. Chris's argument is roughly that the question of tone and style is less important than the question of whether a statement is accurate. He suggests that acting in this way will aid in public deliberation by improving tone and civility over time, and it will treat all parties with respect insofar as it takes their arguments seriously.

      For the most part, I'm largely in agreement with Chris, and I'm not sure what I think about Eric's proposal that Julie and Phil voluntarily limit themselves. The only weakness (and I don't think it is ultimately fatal to his overall point) in Chris's argument is that determining whether someone's conclusion is accurate is a complicated matter. In order to do so, one must know what the actual conclusion is, what action is recommended in light of the conclusion, the evidence being offered in support of the conclusion, and the relevance of that evidence to the conclusion.

      My guess is that most people who ignore or who criticize tone are doing so because (a) they don't want to put in the work it takes to determine whether the conclusion is accurate, or (b) they have put in the effort to understand and evaluate the accuracy of some of their conclusions, and the payoff has been very low. Thus, they are reluctant to put in the work again given that previous experience. I know I've made that call about important intellectual figure. For example, I'm sure Zizek has interesting things to say, but I would have to put in too much work to understand and evaluate it, and the payoff when I did a couple of times was very low. So, I choose not to read Zizek.

      So, that leaves me at an impasse. I agree that, ideally, we should evaluate the substance of everyone's arguments. I also think we should bracket any issues of tone and civility in order to focus on the substance of the argument(s), but I also think it is perfectly legitimate for people to think the required effort in a particular case isn't worth it. If I were to think that it wasn't worth it to put in that effort, then I should not make comments on the merits, tone, or style of the arguments. Frankly, I don't know enough to evaluate those things. That's why you won't hear me talking about how awful all of Zizek's scholarship is (despite thinking what I've read and understood is pretty shotty work!), and I think that's another legitimate way of treating someone with respect.

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    3. Part 1:
      Still at it Eric Johnson? Thank you for making it so clear in your comment. Talk about snarky…you are the king! You're not at all shy about talking out both sides of your mouth are you? I mean, like the hypocrisy above where you start by saying one thing as if that’s what you mean, but then completely contradict it with what you really think in a way that actually does exactly what you’re criticizing someone else for…oh, and toss in a little of the condescension and sexism that so many women see in your comments.

      After the board meeting where I read your comments to a blog of Chris Liebig’s as an example of what I see as discriminatory standards of administration communication, accountability, and transparency provided to parents, administration was rather upset with you. That’s pretty funny really. You brag about knowing what they’re doing as if you have them at beck and call, that they should be getting right back to you on whatever, and they’re upset about it? Very funny because are they upset because you are so presumptuous to speak of their favor in print for all to see or because you misrepresented your relationship with them in their eyes? Administration seemed quite shocked by what you had written, and very, very disappointed at your representation, but it took reading it out loud so they and others could independently check what you'd written. Once they checked, right during the meeting even, well, what can I say but thank you for helping prove my point. So, just wondering, is that the kind of “personal attack” you’re all against…one that exposes hypocrisy and discriminatory treatment of parents by administration and board? Well Eric, if you don’t want your snarky posts read to or by the administration... Also, might I suggest you use examples of what exactly you object to Phil or me saying, I mean, exactly, specific examples by quote or as verifiably correct? Because anything else is just spin.

      When I read your comments on Chris’s blog, I simply used evidence to demonstrate an example of different, discriminatory in my opinion, communication standards provided to parents by Murley, his administrators, and board members. The more often Murley, his administration, and the rule of 5 appoint Murley’s cheerleader sharpshooters to committee positions, as special representatives to groups like IA Dept of Ed for audit interaction, perhaps to temporary board director even on July 21st, the more those 5 show the rest of us that some parents and former math teacher board directors are more equal than other stakeholders in this district…just as some constituencies are more equal than others here. Your comments were a specific example of what appears to be the kind of preferential treatment you, Jason Lewis, Chris Lynch, Paul Roessler, and others that spew Murley’s magic beans receive after you publicly support Murley’s aims or targets, fundraising goals and spending requests, and most of all it seems, when you publicly attack the people he dislikes for critically evaluating his, his administrations, and some board member’s poor leadership and choices. Oh, believe me I totally get where Eric is getting his overconfidence. The things Murley told me about people to, by my understanding of his words and actions as discussed with him at length, encourage me to be his sharpshooter have long ago became beyond questionable, but, either way, I believe he told me what he thought would be most motivating to try to direct my attention to those and that which he felt most threatened by.

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    4. Part 2:
      How kind of you to focus your second part of your comment above on Phil and I alone, when I can name many, many, many speakers by name and meeting topic that have done exactly those things to Phil and I and you have not mentioned any of them by name (funny how that works), Murley's newest handmaiden Paul Roessler for example. Hell, his personal attack on me during public was such a perfectly laid segue for Jeff to shout slander at me by name from his board mic, for Sally to deny me the opportunity to address any of it, and for the outright lie that Gregg Hennigan (another Murley handmaiden) wrote in the Gazette (though the meeting video and many people, some who are not even fond of me personally, have stated that I said not one word while Roessler was at the mic, not a peep, not a gesture, not an eye roll Eric). Eric, why aren't you holding Roessler, Jason Lewis, the North Corridor Parents, let alone Jeff McGinness the standards you say should apply to Phil and me by name? Because you are a hypocrite Eric. I call you out as a hypocrite because you speak on behalf of applying different standards to the people you like than the people you don't like above. Myself, I believe in applying policy, rule, and law, evenhandedly and equitably. You believe in different rules for different people or you wouldn't just hold two people, by name, to your personal interpretation of the first amendment (totally unqualified to do so in comparison with folks like Chris Liebig and Nicholas Johnson) and you do it with just your initials now instead of your name. In my opinion, that’s not brevity, that’s an attempt to distance yourself from your words.

      Eric, you know what I think would be great? I think it would be great if you and your cronies walked your own talk and just talked out of one side of your mouths. I think it would be especially great if you realized that my legal right to freedom of speech, and anyone else’s, is not yours to decide the form of based on whether you like what it says or not. My first amendment right is mine, not yours, and it's free, not just when it's what, how, or when, you, Murley, Sally, Marla, Chris, Brian, and Jeff, Paul Roessler, and Jason T. Lewis like or want to hear. If you don't want to hear it...by all means plug your ears and hum. However, just that you, the NCP, and the aforementioned don't want to hear it doesn't change the fact that many, many people pretty much thank me daily for it both publicly and privately. That’s not why I do it, but your assertion that you know what the public wants to hear, thinks, or cares about is really just more of the same.

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    5. Part 3:
      Eric, I CAN tell you what would be great! It would be great if the district administration and the board actually met the transparency measures urgently called for in the Synesi Audit (an external, unbiased outside review by a contractor Murley recommended) to restore confidence in district and board leadership. It really is this simple, if and when they do, Phil and I will get the luxury of “retiring”. Not that I can stop hoping it will change one way or another, but I’m sure you can imagine my confidence level in it when Murley and Ramey write a policy together in a shady closed door meeting that is meant, per Murley’s on camera statements against what everyone knows is me, in an effort to attack my right to speak towards the district related, agenda related topics of my choice together in a shady closed door meeting…and then Murley denies any knowledge of ever having written it, or even knowing who wrote it only to be immediately contradicted by Chace who rats him out in a shocking CYA. Gosh, it was like watching reruns of Perry Mason! What I’d like to hear, and nobody has ever asked or FOIA’d it, yet, is which board members were in that room at any point of the writing of that policy…by phone, email, or in person. Is that one of those conspiracy theories you like to accuse me when you continue, even post policy disappearance, to attack my credibility. Does it get you more phone calls and personal meetings with Murley and Dude? Or did you lose that privilege for narking them off in print so pompously without realizing what that might do to your privileged communication status? Eric, it’s only paranoid, it’s only a conspiracy theory when it isn’t true. When something I’ve been fighting for months turns out to be even MORE dirty than I’d ever expected to find out some of the truth about, you imply I’m paranoid? Accuracy is not paranoia, it’s a gift or a curse I suppose, but my critical evaluation of the situation couldn’t have been a whole lot more correct.

      When I attended my sister's first wedding in Atlanta, the night before the wedding her father-in-law decided to inform her family there to help decorate, we ignorant, ungenteel northerners (1 man and 3 women) that, you know, just as a joke (except the look in his eye that said he felt his sneetches were superior), that the reason us northerners came started the Civil War in the first place was because we wanted their fine southern women. I pointed out that his fine southern son was about to marry my mid-west born and raised sister. Eric, if you, Jason Lewis, Dan Shaw and your other buddies don't like my northern woman style freedom of speech, maybe you’d be happier back down south? If you could, that would be a welcome change for many of us. My sister divorced that first husband. We miss him in more ways than you know, since he was much nicer than his father, but she’s happier in her marriage to her best friend from where she went to high school in D.C. He likes smart, well-informed, opinionated women who aren’t afraid to exercise their first amendment rights ;-)

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    6. Julie: As you know, I refuse to make judgments about a person's character without coming to that opinion based on my own experiences. That goes for my experiences with you, and with others.

      With that said: based on my experience with each of the people you've mentioned (and I've interacted with a number of North Corridor parents, Eric, and Paul more than a few times over the past several months, and to a lesser extent with some of the others you've mentioned), I think highly of their character. Despite policy disagreements, I appreciate that each of them have engaged with my arguments, and that they seem to have the best interest of the district as a whole as their primary goal (even if I think their interpretation of what is in the best interest of the whole district is off).

      Still, I know you've had more experiences with all of the individuals you've mentioned than I've had. So, I say this -- not to belittle or take away from your experiences -- but merely to offer my own experiences with those individuals. I can evaluate arguments/positions from another without knowing the person expressing it, but I can't evaluate their character without knowing them. That is why you'll almost always see me limit myself to policy issues.

      Perhaps I will be forced to draw judgments about someone's lack of character in the future, but I'm pleased that it hasn't happened thus far. The only other thing I'll say about this is that I suspect the issue comes back to how one values polemics as a mode of discourse. I think polemics have a place in discourse and when done well, they are a public good. By nature, I'm pretty polemical and I'm comfortable with it in other people (probably because of my debate and philosophy background). So, I have to work hard at being constructive. Still, that means that I'm much more comfortable with polemics than other people. But, as long as someone doesn't try to impose a requirement that discourse only be constructive, I don't see either disposition as being better or worse, just a different approach to public discourse.

      May the level of public scrutiny and the quality of public discourse increase for the betterment of our schools.

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    7. "As you know, I refuse to make judgments about a person's character without coming to that opinion based on my own experiences. "

      And I would respect you less if you did Michael. However, forewarned is forearmed? All I've got is breadcrumbs here...if people don't follow them there's nothing I can do about it...can't make people hear and see if they don't want to...doesn't mean I'm going to give up though.

      My take on it is this, that if I have seen the district leadership responsible for all of our children do what I think are unethical things in relation to their work and their responsibility for our children, and least though still relevant...their responsibility for our tax dollars, that it is my obligation to speak of it until it improves because they do a better job or because more of the public knows more of what's actually going on and holds them to that level of service to our "Community School District". I expect them to do it honestly, fairly, transparently, without threats, without discrimination, without manipulation and I expect them to remember that this is not a monarchy, or a dictatorship, and that they are here to serve our children and all of our communities fairly to the best of their ability. If they don't, then I will talk about what I see, hear, and think.

      As far as the lack of character though, it is my understanding, that the verbal and physical assaults that I saw a very, very angry looking Marla Swesey perpetrate on Tuyet Dorau have become a founded incident of bullying by a complaint investigation done by the Equity Director in what has amazed me as, if that is what has happened, it would be about the MOST honest, ethical, fair, responsible single act I have ever seen an ICCSD administrator do. Now, since I witnessed that entire event and have the emails that preceded it which are arguably a walking quorum in violation of public meeting law from several vantage points, what do you think about the bullying policy. You see Michael, from what I've seen, it's the administration and the board members that do the bullying without suffering a single penalty at board level. I was bullied by a board director, in my opinion, which is why I became interested in board and district activities in the first place. I became much more vocal when the superintendent and the board bullied me with their behavior, their vilification of me in the media, the outright lie promulgated by Gregg Hennigan in the Gazette article which was never retracted, and their policy which these were all in support of. Perhaps if the board and upper administration stopped bullying me and instead addressed the substance and accuracy, as Chris noted, of the issues I help bring to light, I wouldn't have to speak at the meetings any more. Nobody, absolutely NOBODY, would be more happy about that than me.

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  8. I think that even the simple folk who don't use words like interlocutor multiple times making a point deserve to be heard although I suspect they are not sophisticated enough to share the same room as you.

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    1. Anon 6:30: You seem to be implying that I am biased against "simple folk." Is that judgment formed from your extensive observations of my daily life? Or is it based on some comment I made?

      No matter the evidence, I do appreciate the great courage it took for you to anonymously point out my character flaws on a blog.

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    2. Really? Michael is very, very methodical, scientific even, gifted with the ability to numbers whisper with accuracy in the pieces I've seen him write, and he has an excellent and sophisticated vocabulary, but I have never felt condescended to in any interaction I've had with him...even when our interpretations of something were different, he actually ran the numbers to compare and listened to my concerns first without discounting them in any way though they were not his. He has answered above with what I perceive as a very dry sense of humor (which made me smile)...and I believe his integrity is also supported by the fact that he both let the post stand and answered it with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

      Michael, I have to agree though...interlocutor is a bit too fancy for me, but, due to how fairly, courteously, and respectfully you have discussed and approached with me issues we interpreted differently, I begrudge you it not = you funnnnnny!

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  9. AnotherAnon - Anon6:30 seems to be equating disagreeing with not allowing someone to be heard.

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  10. It all about credibility. When Julie speaks in the way that she does, it hurts her credibility and so people are less willing to look into the substance of her arguments. And no one wants to converse with her because of the way in which she converses - they don't want to subject themselves to the lack of common decency that is expected when two people have a conversation.

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    1. Anon 12:36: Fair enough, but I personally enjoy conversations with Julie. Despite not knowing each other well, she has repeatedly and very kindly asked after my brother who passed away a few months ago. And I think she knows just about everything that goes on in this town and school district.

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    2. Anonymous 12:36
      You speak for yourself and a few people who have every right to feel any way they choose. If that's how you evaluate what you believe, whine on. Credibility for me is about quality of information, transparency, and accuracy, not whether I like a person or not. Honestly, when the former head of the FCC publicly writes that we would all be better off in this country if every school board, city council, etc, had two people like Phil and me, I find him more credible than an anonymous poster who I probably wouldn't enjoy speaking with either (not holding cowardice such as anonymous posting in any regard anyway). I assure you, there are more people that I want to talk to, that want to talk to me, than I have enough hours in the day for (she said at 4:16am). Common decency isn't slamming someone else anonymously on a public blog. Please do us both a favor, with credibility like your above anonymous slam on a blog, don't talk to me...I don't have any more time to waste on you than this.

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    3. Michael, how very kind of you. Even as an agnostic pagan, I hold your spirituality in great regard. You have shown yourself to be a fair, open-minded man of great intellect and integrity in the brief discussions and online discourse we have had. I was deeply touched by the courage and honesty of what you wrote for your brother and will, even though it was a terrible, sad time of deep hurt for you, always feel linked to you in compassion and admiration because of what you wrote and because you let me extend my sincere concern for you and your loss.

      Your last sentence is significant and meaningful to me because of the high regard I hold your in as well, maybe one of my favorite compliments even, but still I am more touched that you knew how much I felt for your loss and wished to extend comfort.

      Anon 12:36: Fair enough, but I personally enjoy conversations with Julie. Despite not knowing each other well, she has repeatedly and very kindly asked after my brother who passed away a few months ago. And I think she knows just about everything that goes on in this town and school district.

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  11. 1. Chris, your point about critics of Julie and Phil not engaging their arguments is true in some places, but it also seems to presuppose that making arguments is the only noteworthy thing they do, or that that was what I meant to do and somehow wasn't. My comment was intended to be limited to the question of the comment policy, to clarify that I opposed it and spoke against it, and to suggest, as someone who has decided to sit through numerous board meetings, that Julie and Phil, but especially Julie, could be more considerate of others and more effective by making changes to style, frequency, and deportment. So, yes, I wasn't speaking to Julie's arguments. And yes, others may find the way that she presents her arguments more noteworthy than what she says. Its possible to see this as a sign that people aren't comfortable with their arguments and are responding by trying to divert attention from them, but I don't think that's the case all, or even most of the time. Its also possible that, in Julie's case, people sometimes have trouble sorting out what argument she's making when speaking. Overall, I'd suggest that this is a sign that the way that they present things is undermining the arguments themselves and making them less effective and less convincing. But I don't know. I'm not taking it on myself to speak for "critics of Julie and Phil" in general. For my part, they're each completely right on sometimes and completely off base sometimes. I think that Phil is more often on target and the content of his remarks more generally addresses policy, rather than personalities.

    I do hear what you're saying about criticizing tone and not responding to arguments, but I've found engaging with Julie to generally be unproductive. When I've agreed with her, its only encouraged the kind of behavior that I think undermines her arguments and when I've disagreed with her its resulted in loads of misplaced venom. Some of what she has to say in that first paragraph I agree with: the board could and should be more transparent. Some I disagree with: I don't think that her characterization of the board-supt. relationship is accurate. Much of it, like her detailed exposition of her relationship with Murley, her speculation about Sally's resignation, I just don't find credible. Your mileage may vary.

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  12. 2. Julie: A. I'm not attacking your legal right of freedom of speech. For the good of the process and for the good aims that you sometimes argue in favor of, I wish you'd use it differently sometimes. B. Regarding what I said on Chris's blog, I wasn't bragging, or trying to show that I had some kind of access, just trying to share information. As far as getting that information, I first sent an angry email, then calmed down and sent a polite one. The polite one got a response. If "The administration wasn't happy with me" about that, then that information shouldn't have been in an email response to me. C.. I don't really know what your point in the Atlanta story is, except maybe to suggest that my place of origin makes me inherently sexist? Regardless, Fayetteville is not Atlanta, and even Atlanta, like the south as a whole, or any place is not monolithic. I've been brought up by and surrounded by strong, vocal women my entire life. Like any man in this society I'm vulnerable to male privilege, but I do try to keep an eye on it. If you have any specific instances of something I've said being sexist, or something more substantial than this, then let me know, and I'll try to correct it. Otherwise, this looks like a good illustration of the kind of unsubstantiated personal attack that is so often part of your public interactions with people. D. No, what I mean by conspiracy theories would be like the time you made much hash of a Twain parent I know (not the one you're thinking of) being on the South elementary design committee, when he was invited onto that committee by the Twain principal, or the time you stood up in community comment and told the room that you were sure that I (and a couple of other people) were destined to become members of some committee we'd never heard of, and then were destined to become members of the BoE. E. You're right about the audit and about the need for greater transparency in general.

    I'm fairly certain I'll regret engaging you, again, but I've certainly been wrong before, so maybe I'm wrong about that.

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  13. Yes folks, Eric Johnson has designated himself our politeness man...lucky us. You are still talking out of both sides of your mouth Eric. Saying you didn't support the policy and then following it with lessons in genteel manners is absurd. Yes, I support cleanliness too but that doesn't mean my house is clean enough, nor does it mean I should feel the right to assert that you keep your house clean to my standards. I support a lot of things, but I don't then in the same breath contradict myself by uttering nothing but the opposite intent. Keep talking Eric. Because the more you do, the more obvious your real intents are. Mine are about holding the school district leadership to ethical standards, what are yours about? Oh, being my personal etiquette bully.

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  14. Oh Eric, you are just so good at pretending to give examples, you have not given examples, you have given your version of examples which have, as you so often do, missed the forest for the trees. My complaint about the Twain parent, was no such thing. My complaint was that there was not a single FRL parent on that committee and that appointing a parent from Twain who, if I'm remembering back correctly though I can certainly check, did not reveal her intent to run for board until already seated on the committee...you know, exactly the kind of self-serving stepping stone that Chris Lynch was given from a different committee appointment after he lead the alleged citizen group in support of the RPS. Yes, how terribly irrational the ability to see people using favor granted by the administration and board as a stepping stone to a campaign and board seat. Please...people of quality intellect and knowledge in and about this district see plenty in what I'm saying as credible. You let me know when the former head of the FCC says something like we would all be better off if every school board, city council, board of supervisors and the like had two people like Phil Hemingway and me doing what we do...specifically about your public advocacy. He would probably not be unhappy if I was a little daintier too, but he's smart enough to know that quality is more important than the appearance of the book. Regardless of your preferred privileged white male assertion that you have the right to tell any woman how she should speak, and about DEPORTMENT, I'm pretty sure you know what you can do with that. May I also point out that your initial assertions are completely contradicted by everything that comes after them as you try to prove your point doing much of exactly what you are whining about. That you seem to think I am speaking for you, or that I even care what you think about much of anything after seeing you speak out of both sides of your mouth so often already is really funny to me...you know, other than when you smugly vomit it at me in print and I can't resist the entertainment of pointing out your consistent hypocrisy, I really don't. I don't so much care about what people without poor integrity think...nor do I trust them enough to change my mind about it once I have seen a performance as consistently creepy and as lacking in credibility as yours. Yes, yet again making it personal and about me instead of really addressing any of the substance of what I address as an issue or concern.

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  15. What I'll be playing while thinking of the school district's next attempt to shut me up at the meeting tomorrow night as per the agenda for the meeting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdNFFC0p7N4

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  16. Julie, its not hypocrisy to say that you'd be a more effective watchdog if you didn't make yourself seem ridiculous. I don't have the right to tell anyone how to speak, but since you're making an environment I'm in toxic, I thought I'd ask. But, fair enough, keep doing what you're doing, and keep telling yourself that you're holding people accountable while you undermine the causes you claim to support.

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  17. BTW, the lack of FRL parents on the South Elementary design committee is a more than fair point, though I'd say that its true for any of the design committees and many other bodies across the district and not just that elementary in particular. I wish this point had been clearer originally, because its something that people should hear.

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