A few days ago, I wrote that Katherine Kersten’s April 9 broadside against an Arabic charter school featured a substitute-teacher source who — unbeknownst to readers — had been a conservative Republican college activist.
Thursday, I spoke to the teacher, Amanda Getz, a personable young woman who called me right back from her job at a day spa. I wanted to know if she had requested the TIZA assignment and whether — as KSTP’s Beth Jett subsequently characterized it — what Getz saw there truly “totally took her by surprise” and “shocked her.”
As it turns out, the surprise could not have been total.
On the surface, the timeline is suspicious. Getz received her teaching license just five weeks before she showed up at TIZA. Kersten’s original column ran March 9; Getz taught at the school five days later.
Getz says she was assigned to the school “completely at random.” It was one of three single-day assignments she received from Teachers on Call, a Bloomington-based placement service. (Teachers on Call did not return three messages asking about their involvement, and TIZA says company officials won’t return their calls, either.)
Contrary to KSTP’s script, Getz was clearly aware going in that the school was a cultural hot zone. Before teaching at TIZA, she showed her dad her assignments. He noticed TIZA on the list, and handed her Kersten’s original March 9 column, she says. The piece was filled with innuendo that the taxpayer-supported charter school was impermissibly teaching Islam. The school shared space with a mosque; its sponsor was linked to Hamas; the school’s cafeteria serves halal food.
Getz’s parents are educational conservatives — so conservative, in fact, that her mom and dad signed a Public Proclamation for the Separation of School and State. Not church and state — school and state. The document’s first line? “I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.”
Getz said that her dad didn’t give her any direction when showed her the Kersten column, commenting only that the assignment would be “interesting.” (She said she has never heard of the proclamation. She has not signed it, according to the website.)
The young teacher says she did experience genuine surprise after her day at TIZA. That’s because Getz wasn’t sure Kersten’s original piece was accurate — until she saw things for herself. “Columnists sometimes tell the news in a biased way, and I was surprised that [reports of impermissible religious teaching] were pretty much true,” Getz says.
That prompted the call to Kersten that inspired the April 9 column. Getz said she and Kersten did not know each other previously.
Getz insists ideology did not color her TIZA comments. She says the accusation of political bias is “sort of a joke” among her friends, “since I’m probably the least political person in our group.” The stint with the College GOP was more about leadership development than political ax grinding, she adds.
Does Getz’s history really matter? At least one MinnPost commentator argued my original piece was nothing more than an ad hominem attack, focusing on the person rather than the facts of what Getz witnessed.
But it’s important to note that at this point her observations are not facts — they are one person’s unverified views. (And remember, the state had never received a complaint about TIZA prior to the columns.)
I’m not saying Getz is wrong; I honestly don’t know. But any source’s motives — especially in a case that inspires national “terrorist madrassa” braying and local hate calls — deserve vetting, and especially disclosure. Sources are biased — and so are writers, who need to be pressed to disclose information that complicates their tub-thumping or sensational scripts.
Let’s say a DFL union activist criticized a “classical” charter school for teaching Christianity sub-rosa. I suspect conservatives would want that personal history to be reported.
For the record, I’m a Democrat-voting, public-school-loving, Muslim-liking guy.
Related note: Minnesota Monitor’s Andy Birkey has a really good case study Thursday of Kersten’s recent St. Thomas criticism, tracing it from the Powerline blog through an activist press release the columnist may have followed a bit too slavishly.