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Lynnell Mickelsen was right: The industrial education complex in Minnesota must be reformed

The objective of our education system cannot be job security for adults at the expense of our children.

A well-known Democrat, Lynnell Mickelsen, recently drew the scorn of many of her fellow progressives for attempting to advance progress in education in a Community Voices commentary she wrote for MinnPost. On this issue Mickelsen shows rare courage and thought leadership. As a Republican I arrived at her basic conclusion, that the industrial education complex in Minnesota must be reconfigured to support our children, from a much different route. Nevertheless we are here together and I encourage all people to join the fight to advance progress in education, because this is the civil rights issue of our time.

Not white privilege

Chris Fields

The idea that people of color fail because of white privilege is to say that if they had only been white they would have been able to do much better in life and in school. As a black man who grew up poor in an inner city, I find that hard to accept. The claim that whites designed America and our education system for whites is a figment of an overly educated mind. There are an awful lot of white people who are finding it tougher to get ahead these days throughout Minnesota, and privileged is not something they feel.

The white privilege argument seems to leave out the fact that Asians as a group do far better than the white majority in education attainment and nearly all economic measures. It also doesn’t address the fact that in 1996 voters in California did away with affirmative action in the University of California school system. At the time Democrats screamed that in doing away with affirmative action people of color would not be able to compete for admissions and the campuses would suffer from a lack of diversity. Four years after doing away with affirmative action, minority admissions at the University of California school system were about the same as pre-affirmative action and four-year graduation rates for blacks and Latinos actually rose over 50 percent.

The plain truth is that our country and institutions are designed for people who are willing to conform to mainstream ideals and principles. Risk takers, rabble-rousers and people who chart their own path can be richly rewarded because of our unique free enterprise system; we are the land of opportunity. For every person who is successful assuming certain risks, stirring the pot and dancing to the beat of their own drum, there are many who tried and did not find the reward they sought. That cannot be attributed to white privilege. That is a product of choices people make, timing and circumstance.

Defending the indefensible

President Barack Obama said “… there are single parents all across the country who do a heroic job raising terrific kids, but I still wish I had a dad who was not only around, but involved, another role model to teach me what my mom did her best to instill — values like hard work and integrity, responsibility and delayed gratification — all the things that give a child the foundation to envision a brighter future for themselves.”

I believe people who voted for President Obama not once but twice should come to the sober reality that the disintegration of the family is as much to blame for the problems in our education system as union bosses and progressives who relentlessly fight to maintain the status quo.

Admittedly, there are no easy policy or legislative fixes to rebuilding a functional family structure that has been eviscerated in minority communities. That said, the way we educate our children must take into account the new family paradigm. The system isn’t failing because it was designed by whites, for whites. The system is failing because elected Democrats and the union leadership they answer to refuse to adopt “even the most common sense reforms,” as Mickelsen puts it, and defend indefensible policies.

Even the liberal think tank the Brookings Institution has acknowledged that people who finish high school, get a full-time job and wait to get married and have kids are less likely to end up in poverty. The objective of a public education system must be to ensure our children finish high school with the tools necessary skills to get a full-time job. The objective cannot be job security for adults at the expense of our children.

Mickelsen puts emphasis on the lack of minority teachers in Minnesota’s classrooms. One of the commenters, Susan Maneck, an associate professor at Jackson State University in Mississippi, answered that critique this way: “If merely having more ‘teachers of color’ could vastly improve the education of minorities, Mississippi would have the best educated African-Americans in the country!”

Good teachers are good teachers no matter what their skin color, and students are quick to recognize that. In 2011, black students in Shelby, Mississippi, voted two white teachers from Teach for America as their best. I had fewer than five black or Latino teachers during my K-12 years, less than that in college and zero in grad school. I am equally grateful to them all (well maybe 90 percent of them) because they gave me a set of tools that helped me mature, stretch my mind and challenge conventional wisdom. That’s what good teachers do. We should not get distracted by trying to find teachers who are the right color. We should instead find teachers with the right qualities.

Partners for progress

Sometimes it is less important how you arrive at the right conclusion. Mickelsen and I view a wide range of issues much differently, but we both arrive at the same conclusion on this issue. We must reform the way we teach our children, and her party and the teachers union should no longer fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. There are a lot of Republicans and independent groups who have been waiting for partners like her. Educating our children cannot be a divisive political fight but instead it must be one of our highest priorities. Republicans have strong leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate who are ready to welcome more voices like Mickelsen’s so that we can make vast improvements in education for the sake of our children and our future.

Chris Fields is the deputy chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.


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Comments (62)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/11/2015 - 07:16 am.


    I have been saying this for a while now, but this is another example of how conservatives and liberals agree. We just come at things from different angles, and of course liberals differ in that we believe we should actually do something about addressing the problems that confront also. Yes, the lack of economic opportunity is disrupting many social institutions, including the family, and that’s true of both white and black families.

    So what are we going to do about it?

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/11/2015 - 08:09 am.

    Economic inequality

    In a very small, modest, and almost against my will, way I am involved in advocacy efforts for public schools. While it’s true that Chris and I are perched at opposite ends of the political spectrum, I can tell you quite frankly that issues of poverty, and family instability come up a lot when we talk amongst ourselves about public schools. I can tell you that I do recognize the importance of such issues, but what I also think is that we must always recognize the difference between an explanation and an excuse. Family instability is one explanation why a kid, any kid of any race, and any gender is going to have a tougher time in school. I wish I had access to a magic wand that I could wave over children making their families whole. But I really don’t have such a wand. As a practical matter, what I always think and what I sometimes say in our discussions is that we, as advocate for education, can’t solve all the problems of the world, but what we can do in a limited sort of way is address the problems immediately before us. Specifically, we can develop strategies that respond to instability, that at the very least provide continuity of education, for kids who otherwise, utterly through no fault of their own, lead very discontinuous lives.

    That said, outside the education context, what do we do to provide economic stability so necessary to family stability? For all our families?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/11/2015 - 10:40 am.

      You can’t fix other people’s families

      You might be able to provide a stable education environment however. As for stabilizing families and lifting them out of poverty… well that’s why we break labor unions, repeal minimum wages laws, cut funding for food stamps and a affordable housing, and require drug tests for anyone seeking public assistance. And if all that magic fails to work we cut education funding, lay off thousand of teachers, divert precious resources to privately owned experiments run by people with no educational training or experience.

      Sure the home environment can have a dramatic effect on a child’s education. We know how to work with that, we just won’t pay for it. We expect teachers sitting in classes with more students than they can handle, will produce state of the art educations because we make easier to fire them.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/11/2015 - 09:27 am.

    Best commentary to be seen on the Minnpost. Ever.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2015 - 10:04 am.

      I second that

      As I asked my readers…

      “And now if a Black Male Conservative and a White Female Liberal can understand this very logical discussion. Why do other Liberals keep insisting that the achievement gap is about racism? And that to fix it, we need to double down on the Union led system that has enabled it? ”

      Paul’s comments above support this.

      What is that word for “Doing things the same way and expecting different results”?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/11/2015 - 10:07 am.

    Swing and a miss

    This “family policy” stuff is a waste of time. Note that Mr. Fields spends almost no time actually discussing education in an article that claims to discuss… education. These republican family policy initiatives flow out well known centers for academic fraud and misinformation otherwise known as “Think Tanks”, “Foundations”, “Institutes” etc. This particular batch of policy was launched by frequent offender Charles Murray (author of: “The Bell Curve” and creator of the “welfare queen” myth). In his latest book: “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010” Murray argues basically that the problem with white families is that they’re behaving too much like black families. Of course the solution for ALL families to go back to behaving like the mythical white families of 1950s.

    Yeah, the liberal Brookings Institute recognizes some demographic trends, but unlike their conservative counterparts at the Heritage Foundation they also understand the difference between correlation and causation. The fact that married people with children have lower poverty rates doesn’t mean that being married with children prevents poverty. Of course Murray has made a career out of confusing correlation with causation so any policy based on his observations will likely be a swing and miss… kind of like charter schools.

    At any rate, if you really think we’re going to improve our education system by telling people what kind of families they should have all I can say is: “good luck”. My advice- if you want a better education system… why don’t you improve the education system instead assuming one will magically manifest itself if only everyone starts acting like characters from 1950s TV shows?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2015 - 10:19 am.

      Type of Family

      I don’t think anyone is saying that we can change the families… They are saying that we need to change the Teacher work rules and Public Schools to better serve the families they are given. The problem with doing this is that Ed MN is very very very resistant to doing this.

      The existing somewhat ineffective school system is ok for families like mine. My wife is highly involved with the school, Teachers, etc, so we can work around questionable communication, poor Teachers, fixed daytime school schedules, etc. I can fill in educational gaps in technical areas and my wife can help the girls with other classes.

      I can not even imagine being a single low academic achievement parent with a day time job trying to help my kid(s) with school. And of course being a single parent living in an apartment with children causes poverty. My wife and I have 2 of us to help with bills, childcare, home repair, etc, if there was only one of we would have to hire many tasks done and the household income would be smaller.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/11/2015 - 10:12 am.

    Where to begin?

    First of all, no one who writes such a poorly constructed piece should expect to be taken seriously when he talks about education reform. Honestly, Mr. Fields, what on earth is your point? You are trying to hit so many targets, and reciting so many standard issue conservative shibboleths that I have no idea what your argument is (for the record, I think your only point of agreement with Ms. Mickelsen is that “public schools need to be changed”).

    Second, what is the “industrial education complex?” Vocational training? That probably is not what you mean. I would understand the term to mean the increased privatization of education, and the outsourcing of educational functions to those who would use schools as little more than profit-making centers. That monetization of education may enrich investors, but it doesn’t do much to help children.

    Third, and finally, the purpose of public education is not “to ensure our children finish high school with the tools necessary skills to get a full-time job.” The Minnesota Constitution, as well as the Constitutions of many other states, says that a “general and uniform system of public schools” is to be established and supported by taxation because the “stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people[.]” In other words, giving students “a set of tools that helped me mature, stretch my mind and challenge conventional wisdom” is more important than ensuring some acceptable level of utility for corporate employers.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/11/2015 - 10:31 am.

      Industrial Education Complex

      Code for teachers unions. No matter how much smoke these guys blow into the air they’re one trick ponies, it’s always about busting unions. Keep your eye on the ball, all this other stuff is noise. And no, breaking the unions won’t fix the education system anymore than cuts to education spending fixed the education system.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/11/2015 - 10:49 am.

      RB your third point stretches the boundaries of absurdity beyond it’s breaking point. We’ve got stretched minds aplenty, unfortunately many of them cannot read, write or solve simple arithmetic.

      Leftists are all about “living constitutions” until it encroaches on their agenda. It’s pathetic.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/11/2015 - 03:20 pm.

        The boundaries of absurdity

        And how are you enjoying yourself out there?

        I trust you realize that I was quoting the author of this piece.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/11/2015 - 11:50 am.

      hope and change

      The “industrial education complex” is the current state of education in our State. We fund “schools” and it eventually trickles down to the students.

      Let us take on the establishment and have real reform that funds kids first. You can’t get more “public” than that.

      The union education monopoly has turned “education” into the largest special interest group in the State. This education monopoly has controlled and funded the DFL party for a generation. Of course – the unregulated special interest money form outside the State (Better MN) – has now outspent “big education.” However, both “big education” and “better MN” have the some goals – keep the big government establishment in power.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/11/2015 - 03:27 pm.

        Hope this changes

        Who is going to fill the void if “the union education monopoly” is abolished? Corporate America will gladly move in and suck up taxpayer dollars under the guise of “reform.” That is what “big education” will become. Testing companies will reap big rewards, “outsourced” providers will offer their products with minimal, if any, oversight, and hedge funds will invest in charter schools until something better comes along. Perhaps these people will let some of the funding trickle down to the students, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

        Kids first? That’s way funnier than your continual use of “hope and change.”

  6. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 03/11/2015 - 10:36 am.

    What’s the point of this commentary?

    So what is the point of this commentary? What are the changes we need to make to improve education for children? I don’t see them described here. The only thing I see here is an implication that the teacher’s union and the DFL are at fault. Frankly, I doubt that reducing the role of seniority when teachers are laid off is going to make a huge difference in outcomes. It may make a small difference here and there, but it’s not going to result in huge improvements in student performance overall. It might help if we didn’t have to lay off teachers every time the legislature is unable to balance the budget without dipping into school funds.

  7. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 03/11/2015 - 10:45 am.

    You lost me

    When you started with calling Ms. Nickelsen a well-known Democrat. After years of espousing right-wing policies, that is no longer a credible designation.

    • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 03/13/2015 - 08:50 pm.

      Chris lost me too when he discounted

      white privilege and went on with the usual GOP stuff .

      But hey, Dan Hintz, who died and made you the Ultimate Judge of Political Identities? I mean, talk about white male privilege!?!? Wowser.

      I’m a long-time active DFL because I agree with the party in most policy areas except certain education work rules that lay-off great teachers while retaining dismal mediocre ones and rulesblock out-of-state licensed teachers from being in our classrooms, etc. According to the public polling, anywhere between 80-90 percent of the public would like changes in those areas too. So if you’re going to kick all of us out of the pool, it’s going to be an awfully small party.

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 03/14/2015 - 04:06 pm.

        Political identities

        I identify myself as a Democrat because I believe in a certain set of principles shared by other Democrats. You consistently make statements and front for groups that are diametrically opposed to those principles. I didn’t make an ultimate judgment – I just said that when the author of this piece referred to you as a Democrat, he lost me.

        The problem with the “reform” agenda you support is that it doesn’t weed out dismal teachers. I have seen this firsthand – the “dismal” teacher at my son’s school wasn’t one identified as such by the test scores, while really good teachers were. That is because using student scores (due to sample size and numerous other factors) is a horrible way to measure teacher effectiveness.

        The people pushing this don’t care, though – they are largely funded by the testing companies and groups that want to bust unions. It has nothing to do with weeding out effective teachers. All it accomplishes is arbitrarily punishing teachers who want to work at challenging schools. In your piece blaming “white liberals” you lament the lack of experience of teachers at schools in poor and minority neighborhoods. Don’t blame the white liberals for that – blame yourself and the education “reformers” who have created a huge disincentive for teachers to go to those schools. If your pay and job security are going to be based on student test scores, wouldn’t you want to go to a school in an affluent neighborhood if you had the choice? If you want to work with struggling kids, you run a much higher risk of being labeled a bad teacher regardless of your ability.

        As Democrats (and I’ll take you at your word that you were at least once a Democrat) we often face opinion polls that initially don’t look to be in our favor. Take the polling on the voter ID a few years back – initially huge majorities of people supported the concept. But as Democrats educated people about what it really meant, support dropped and it was defeated. That is part of being a Democrat – moving past the intial impulse, and actually educating yourself. I don’t know where your 80 to 90 percent comes from, but I expect that if those polled were educated about what is really going on, that people will back those who work with our kids every day – the teachers.

        And if backing teachers instead of testing companies and union-busters is going to make me part of a small party, so be it. As I said from the outset, I’m a Democrat because of the principles. And one of those principles is supporting teachers.

  8. Submitted by joe smith on 03/11/2015 - 10:55 am.

    Chris, congratulations, you know you’ve won the argument when the name calling starts. Nothing bothers white liberals more than a black person talking about education reform without calling for more of the same union driven industrial educational complex. It gets hard for the white liberals to hear anyone say it is about personal responsibility and choice. They know what is best for blacks, what is best for legal and illegal immigrants, what is best for small businesses, also those nasty corporations and big business, what is best for you and me when it comes to our healthcare, they have the moral authority to tell us how much money we need (don’t want to be an evil 1%er) and how much we should give to the Govt, they know how to educate not only their children but all children of all races….. No wonder they are so angry, that is a whole lot of responsibility.
    Hang in there Chris, great article by the way.

    • Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 03/11/2015 - 03:25 pm.


      You assume you know the racial background of all the commenters here. You might be wrong about that and a few other things too, like who the angry ones really are.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/11/2015 - 04:24 pm.


      And here I thought the complaints were about the lack of specifics, demagoguing unions and democrats, and bloviating about the familial superiority of Asians.

      Did any commentator here bring up Mr. Field’s race in any negative light? Even at all? I think not.

      These complaints are not about the color of Mr. Fields’ skin, but about the content of his rhetoric.

  9. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/11/2015 - 10:58 am.

    Sadly, this is the expected, typical MNGOP response to an(y) issue- long on rhetoric and conservative memes, but with zero practical recommendations (literally, zero). Mr. Fields is picking a fight, for the sake of fighting, in this instance. Besides, the voters of Minneapolis have already rejected Mr. Fields’s ideas and policies, and by an enormous margin.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/11/2015 - 04:21 pm.

      “Besides, the voters of Minneapolis have already rejected Mr. Fields’s ideas and policies, and by an enormous margin.”

      Yeah, and here we are. How’s that workin’ out for ya?

      • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/11/2015 - 07:30 pm.

        We, Mr. Swift?

        You live in South Carolina.

        Or have you moved back to Minnesota?

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/12/2015 - 12:13 pm.

        I assume that for the the 75% of Minneapolitans that didn’t vote for Chris Fields, it’s working out rather well. I, however, live in Roseville.

        Given that Minnesota and Minneapolis are consistently ranked highly as economic, social, and cultural leaders among states and cities in the United States, I’d say that’s working out well for most who live in Minnesota.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 03/12/2015 - 04:28 pm.

          That being said- we still have a LONG way to go in addressing the problems that minority communities still face, broadly, in MN. The gap is egregious and shameful.

          I don’t want people to think I am glossing that over.

  10. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/11/2015 - 12:01 pm.


    It would be much easier to accept this as an exercise in good faith, had conservatives not stood on the hill of dismantling public education for the better part of 4 decades. I don’t believe you Mr. Fields, I don’t think you care one whit about the betterment of the education of even one child, white, black or otherwise. I believe that you, like all conservatives care only about creating a means to extract as much profit from the education of children as possible, with a side helping of using education to entrench your preferred social positions into the state’s youth as early and as frequently as possible. You have no other intent, and should be resisted as strenuously as is possible.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2015 - 10:35 am.


      I thought that this was the job of Ed MN.
      “extract as much profit from the education of children as possible”

      Isn’t this why they keep lobbying for higher compensation, lower hours, protecting questionable performers, paying the oldest the most, etc?

      If Ed MN was there for the good of the kids, they would be interested in ensuring the best performing Teachers were paid the most and placed in the schools with the children who need them the most.

      They would ensure that Teachers were paid fairly based on market value, which may mean we could have more Teachers in our classrooms and smaller class sizes.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/11/2015 - 03:31 pm.


    “It gets hard for the white liberals to hear anyone say it is about personal responsibility and choice.”

    It is often the case that when conservatives talk about taking personal responsibility that personal responsibility is to be taken by someone else. For myself, it’s not hard for me at all to take responsibility for what goes on in our schools.

  12. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 03/12/2015 - 06:44 am.

    Mickelsen’s comments

    Showing “rare courage and thought leadership”, especially in Mickelsen’s way, is not acceptable to most DFLers. Once the “party” has made its decision as to policy, one may not differ from it.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/12/2015 - 07:51 am.

    Thought leadership

    Whenever I read articles like this, I look for specific and realistic solutions to the problems raised. Are there pressures in our society that undermine family life? There sure are. Just in the past couple of days, we saw huge layoffs at Target. One of the things that does is undermine a lot of families.So what should our response be? Pass a law making corporate layoffs illegal? And by the way, you notice how so many of the conventional solutions offered to our societal problems are totally irrelevant to the plight of the Target employees?

  14. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/12/2015 - 08:01 am.

    As Nathaniel Finch has already pointed out,

    this commentary presents no real solutions to our current problems. Unfortunately, this is the usual response of people like Mr. Fields and his supporters like Mr. Swift.

    I am not sure that Field/Swift people actually understands the concept of “white privilege.”

    An interesting piece by Paul Krugman has just appeared:

    When Values Disappear

    “here’s an experiment: change the structure of the economy in such a way that a large class of white men — say, white men without a college degree — similarly lose access to good jobs. If Wilson was right, we’d expect to see a sharp decline in stable marriages, a rise in unwed births, growing drug use, and other forms of social disruption.

    And that is, in fact, exactly what happened: William Julius Wilson was right. Which makes it remarkable to see people look at that very evidence and say that it shows that the real problem isn’t money, it’s values.”

    After some gratuitous union bashing, Mr. Fields, opines that the disintegration of the family is just as much to blame for our problems as progressives and trade unionists.

    The disintegration of the family is due to what? Values? No, it is due to money, or the lack of it. The strategy of trying to hide our problems as being due to a lack of values and thus refusing to worry about policy – and money – is what has gotten us into this problem in the first place.

    Mr. Fields continues this strategy and offers no solutions.

    This essay would be a good example to give to eighth graders for analysis and criticism.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2015 - 09:45 am.

      Yeah, this is republican myth making…. again.

      Correlation isn’t causation. The reason so many people have slipped into poverty is the economy crashed, wages and salaries for 90% of the population have stagnated or slid backward, and something like 90% of all the new wealth generated by our economy over the last three decades has gone to the top 1% of our population. This would have happened no matter what families looked like, and obviously the slow burn economic devastation takes it’s toll on families.

      Anyway, the idea that a bunch of white guys know what the “ideal” family is in the first place is perverse dictatorship pretending to be economic policy. So much for “limited” government and personal “liberty”. The government is going to decide what a “good” family looks like rather than let people work it out for themselves? And you’ll notice, the big complaint here is that families don’t look like the mythical TV families in the 50s, which NEVER really existed in the first place. There’s a really good book about this that’s an easy and quick read: “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap” by Stephanie Coontz. Basically the problem with these republican initiatives is that they’re based on nostalgic fantasy pretending to be history. Check it out… think about this and watch “ME” TV. How many shows from the 50s and early 60s portrayed single fathers raising a child? You had: “The Rifleman”, “Andy Griffith”, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, just off the top of my head. These guys can’t even get their TV nostalgia right.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/13/2015 - 04:54 pm.

      The same types of social problems appeared in Japan

      after they adopted “international” (i.e. University of Chicago MBA) business standards. The problems have not been as severe as in the U.S., but ever since the decline of their system of two-way loyalty between company and employee and the introduction of a focus on increasing shareholder value by any means necessary, the society has seen an increase in crime, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and domestic violence. It doesn’t help that there are fewer entry-level jobs available, despite the declining birth rate, so that a whole subculture of so-called “freeters,” people in their twenties and thirties who survive on temporary and part-time jobs, has sprung up.

      No one can accuse the Japanese of having a history of unstable families or neglecting education, and the country is safer and more stable than the U.S. However, each time I go back, I hear people talking about how things have changed.

      The worrying rightward turn of the Abe government is an echo of what is happening in the U.S. and Europe. The center-left parties have become more concerned with pleasing their wealthy contributors than with honoring their roots of working on behalf ordinary people. Meanwhile, the right-wing parties, equally or more in the pockets of corporate contributors, flatter those who have been left behind (by the policies of the party’s own backers) and tell them that they are the salt of the earth and that all their problems are due to those Others. They do everything they can to make ordinary people’s lives harder while waving flags and religious objects in their faces.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2015 - 08:30 am.

    Personal responsibility and “rare” courage.

    The problem with Mickelsen and Fields is that their articles were devoid of substance. Aside from complaining about liberals and labor unions they offer nothing but platitudes, inane ideology, and mundane observations.

    The problem with many conservatives is that they take so many concepts like, faith, personal responsibility, liberty, limited government, innovation, efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and “courage”, etc. and convert them into incoherent talking points. How much courage does it really take to issue a mundane observation and participate in a decades longs assault on labor unions?

    I know I’ve seen a conservative take responsibility for their behavior at some point in my life but I can’t remember when. After one of the greatest security and intelligence failures in US history (Sept. 11 2001) not a single cabinet member offered to resign. They seem to think that uttering the platitude: “I take full responsibility” is the equivalent of actually taking responsibility.

    It’s amazing that this jumble of incoherence has lasted as long as it has but I think it’s finally starting to implode because one way or another it’s finally gotten people’s attention.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 03/12/2015 - 10:34 am.

      Those are called “glittering generalities”

      “The problem with many conservatives is that they take so many concepts like, faith, personal responsibility, liberty, limited government, innovation, efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and ‘courage’, etc. and convert them into incoherent talking points.”

      “A glittering generality (also called glowing generality) is an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. Their appeal is to emotions such as love of country and home, and desire for peace, freedom, glory, and honor. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are typically used by politicians and propagandists.”

      “The Glittering Generality is, in short, Name Calling in reverse. While Name Calling seeks to make us form a judgment to reject and condemn without examining the evidence, the Glittering Generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the evidence. In acquainting ourselves with the Glittering Generality Device, therefore, all that has been said regarding Name Calling must be kept in mind…”

  16. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/12/2015 - 07:27 pm.


    Mr. Haas, you said “..all conservatives care only about creating a means to extract as much profit from the education of children as possible, with a side helping of using education to entrench your preferred social positions into the state’s youth as early and as frequently as possible. You have no other intent, and should be resisted as strenuously as is possible.” Can you imagine that you may be wrong in your belief? Or, as a true liberal, you are always right?

    Mr. Gleason, you quoted Mr. Krugman: “here’s an experiment: change the structure of the economy in such a way that a large class of white men — say, white men without a college degree — similarly lose access to good jobs. If Wilson was right, we’d expect to see a sharp decline in stable marriages, a rise in unwed births, growing drug use, and other forms of social disruption.

    And that is, in fact, exactly what happened: William Julius Wilson was right. Which makes it remarkable to see people look at that very evidence and say that it shows that the real problem isn’t money, it’s values.”

    So does it mean that white families have the same rate of single parent families? I have not seen this statistics – can you point it out for me, please… On the other hand, immigrants usually struggle with money but I am pretty sure they do not more unstable marriages than others… I also wonder if your solution is to throw more money… but that has been tried and it doesn’t help.

    Mr. Udstrand, I am glad you finally agree that correlation isn’t causation – I try to say all the time – so I hope you will also agree now that lower income of minorities is not caused by racism. And no, the government does not decide what the “ideal” family is – the life does. Would you want to have two parents or just one? Also, you said that Conservatives “seem to think that uttering the platitude: “I take full responsibility” is the equivalent of actually taking responsibility.” If I remember correctly, that was exactly what Hillary Clinton said after Benghazi and not only she did not resign but she wants to be a president (and liberals are happy to support her).

  17. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 03/13/2015 - 02:45 pm.

    Alas, Chris Fields & I do not seem to agree

    ……on almost anything, although personally, I wish him well. But If you read my post and his, you can see that we’re coming from the opposite directions and then heading in very different directions. I’m a DFLer. He’s a GOPer. So that’s probably predictable.

    Unlike Chris, I think white privilege and supremacy are a big problem in our educational system and other spheres. For the most part, Republicans have been working against the interests of people of color as well as the interests of almost anyone who is not super-duper rich. So i don’t see a lot of common ground there.

    I do support the current GOP bills to keep the best teachers in the classroom and allow performance to be a criteria in layoffs as opposed to strict seniority. I also support their efforts to make it easier for experienced, licensed teachers from other states be allowed to teach in Minnesota without having to repeat their student teaching or take more costly (and usually useless) education courses.

    According to the polling, 80-90 percent of the public agrees with these two initiatives too, so they cross party lines. DFL Senator Terri Bonoff has introduced similar legislation and I support her bill too.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2015 - 03:23 pm.

      Don’t Back Down Now

      To my middle of the road analytical view, it seems you 2 are pretty well aligned. Does that scare you?

      “We must reform the way we teach our children, and her party and the teachers union should no longer fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. There are a lot of Republicans and independent groups who have been waiting for partners like her. Educating our children cannot be a divisive political fight but instead it must be one of our highest priorities.”

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 10:14 am.

      You’re support and a nickel….

      “I do support the current GOP bills to keep the best teachers in the classroom and allow performance to be a criteria in layoffs as opposed to strict seniority.”

      If we had too many teachers and the problem was getting rid of the worse ones you might have a point. Are you saying THAT’S the problem Ms. Mickelsen?

      Seems to me one problem we all agree on is the that fact that there’s a teachers shortage, so getting rid of teachers isn’t the problem is it? We’ve already fired something like 2,200 teachers, if we hadn’t fired all those teachers would we still have a shortage?

      If it’s clear, as I think it is, that retaining and hiring teachers is one of the problems, why are you devoting so much energy to firing teachers and laying them off? That just exacerbates the problem.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 10:44 am.

        One of Many

        “Are you saying THAT’S the problem “.

        I think she is saying “that’s ONE problem”. One of many… And it is within our control to fix quickly.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 11:20 am.

          Sounds great until….

          Sure, getting rid of bad teachers sounds great… until we ask you to tell us exactly WHO those teachers are and how many them there are? Then it turns out all you’re really complaining about is teachers with seniority and teachers who belong to a union.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 01:11 pm.

            No, this is how explained to my readers.

            The involved Parents definitely know. My beloved wife always surveyed a sampling of parents with older kids. Most Teachers got mixed reviews because the Parents were looking for different attributes in a “great teacher”, a few received accolades from all, and a few who received a near universal “thumbs down”.

            The very poor Teachers were usually highly disorganized, could not maintain class discipline, often highly emotional, lost assignments often, etc. The disturbing part was that these Teachers would still be teaching for 4+ years once the Principal finally got the nerve up to work at removing them. The involved parents would therefore work to keep their kids out of those classes… Thus the unlucky kids would end up with those Teachers.

            By the way, some of them were very nice people who simply did not belong in a classroom.

            • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 04:04 pm.

              As usual…

              You’re not answering the question, and all you have is anecdotal reports from parents. Again, how many of these teachers are there, and how have you identified them? Anyone can contrive a description of “bad” teacher, THAT’S not the question. We’re talking about real teachers in a real school system.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 10:22 pm.


                Not sure how many there are, but let’s say 5% of existing Teachers are poor to very poor. If there are ~70,000 teachers in MN, that would mean there are ~3,500 teachers who are either earning too much relative to their productivity and/or they are robbing children of being taught by a better Teacher. And if we say these questionable Teachers impact 25 to 125 depending if they are elementary or secondary ed. Don’t those tens of thousands of children deserve only the best teachers, especially those unlucky kids that need all the help they can get to escape poverty?

                As for how to determine who to cut, pay the most, promote, demote, etc. Just like at my job, have Principal evaluate the employees based on results, parent/student feedback, peer feedback, etc. Every company in the USA does this in some manner, not sure why schools think they are so unique?

  18. Submitted by Steve Ulrich on 03/13/2015 - 05:22 pm.

    to be clear, a healthy chunk of the criticism lofted at the lynnell mickelsen was its absence of any thought leadership or actionable steps. only via the comments did she deign to provide any details re: what she perceived to be practical next steps.

    from what i perceive both mr. fields and ms. mickelsen primarily seemed to be aligned in their capacity for bloviating. oh, that their educations had focused on effective communications. chalk one up for your favorite educational failing du jour.

    • Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 03/13/2015 - 08:48 pm.

      Actually, I gave a lot of actionable steps


      And here are some more:

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/14/2015 - 10:51 pm.

        Blind Spots

        One of my Liberal readers accused you today of offering no actionable proposals… It seems some people have an ability to deny the existence of your 8 good and reasonable proposals.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/16/2015 - 02:41 pm.


          I don’t think anyone is denying the existence of eight proposals (if they are, they are of course incorrect). The denial is that these are “good and reasonable” proposals.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 09:59 pm.

            Good Point

            Do you have any “good and reasonable” proposals?

            Or do you support Paul’s proposal that we just tax and spend more, and not work to optimize the current system for the good of the students and tax payers?

            Do you truly believe that only years / degrees should be used to determine who is paid the most and kept in our children’s classrooms?

            And if you truly believe that years / degrees determine the best Teachers… Then what is your rationale for allowing them to opt out of the schools that teach the unlucky students who need the best Teachers?

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/17/2015 - 11:02 am.

              Clarify, please

              Are you saying that there is no correlation between years of experience teaching and the teacher’s effectiveness, or is that just a smokescreen?

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/17/2015 - 01:12 pm.


                There likely is correlation between education, experience and performance. However I certainly don’t see it being what one should exclusively base compensation and retention on. Based on your logic, anyone who practices a lot, hires coaches and tries long enough should be able to play professional sports and get payed the highest salary with no chance of getting fired no matter how they change or how much effort they show.

                The reality is that excellent perfomance has many factors. Natural ability, education, experience, ability to change and effectively implement what is learned in classes or by experience, effort, beliefs, personality, work ethic, organization skills, classes management skill, etc. Yet people like yourself seem to think there are only 2 factors to be evaluated. (ie years and degrees)

                By the way, you evaded answering the questions I posed. If you want to double down on years + degrees = performance, then how are we not ensuring that the older high dollar Teachers are not working with the children who most need them?

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/17/2015 - 02:08 pm.

                  Further clarification

                  I have never said that education and experience are the only bases for compensation and retention. However, I feel that making the elimination of tenure as a significant factor in teacher retention is, at best, taking the easy way out.

                  Let’s use your example of someone who “practices a lot, hires coaches and tries long enough” to play professional sports. Yes, the idea that such a person is entitled to play is absurd. Do they get a tryout? If they do, there is no guarantee that they will be the better performer, but, if I had to bet, I would bet on that person over someone who has never given any thought to playing professionally but who is placed on the team because we need a “new approach.” I would also bet against a more experienced player over a rookie (up to a point. If Pete Rose does get reinstated . . .).

                  My bet is that most of the people who are ill-suited for teaching leave the profession in relatively short order. That is not a guarantee, but I would suspect that there is more correlation between experience and performance than the simple-solutions crowd would like to admit.

                  Why are we not ensuring that the older high dollar Teachers are not working with the children who most need them? Good question. Perhaps the incentives are not high enough.

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/17/2015 - 06:13 pm.


                    They are already making almost twice what a 3 year Teacher is making. How much more incentive do you want to give them for Teaching where their experience is most needed? I will need to try that at work sometime.

                    “Boss, Even though I am one of the higher paid Project Managers with ~25 years of experience and 3 degrees. I demand that I am only given the simplest lowest stress projects.”

                    The Public School world is almost like an alternate universe…

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 09:49 am.

        Actually no…

        First, Ms. Mickelsen, you only provided that list of actionable steps AFTER being challenged on their absence from your article, they are contained a comment about the article, not the article itself. Second, the majority of those are in fact back-hand attacks on the Union because most of them carry an obligatory accusation that the unions oppose them one way or another.

        As for the additional link, let me save everyone time… don’t bother, it’s just another straw man attack on mythical liberals who oppose better education for people of color. Ms. Mickelsen simply presents universally recognized goals and issues as if she herself discovered them by talking to people of color. She then goes on to pretend that liberals are dedicated to preserving disparity by ignoring diversity. The claim that “liberals” oppose education reform seems to be Mickelsen’s primary thesis. In the end it looks like this dubious argument simply flows out of the fact that democrats tend to be more supportive of the teacher’s unions. Apparently in Meckelsen’s universe you can’t support unions AND reform the education system.

        Now it’s true that racism exists among liberals AND conservatives, and that racism interfere’s with our goal of an equitable educations system. But the charge that the most problematic racism is emerging from the liberal end of the social and political spectrum is kind of weird and intellectually shallow.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 11:05 am.


          Please share your ideas for improving the system so that “unlucky” kids have a better chance of succeeding, while staying within the existing budget.

          By the way, I use the terms lucky and unlucky instead implying race, income, language, etc are the causal factors of success. Lucky kids are those who have genetics, parents, community, etc that are there to encourage and enable academic success, and model the behavior / beliefs that will help them achieve this. The Unlucky kids usually are lacking one or all of the above.

          For example, my children are very lucky and succeed in diverse and challenging schools. (ie Plymouth Middle School and Armstrong HS) Both my wife and I help, coach, mentor, tutor, demand, guide, buy, etc to ensure the girls succeed. And there are 2 of us to split the load.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 04:09 pm.

            Incoherent questions don’t help

            You assumption that unlucky kids can receive the instruction they need within the existing budget reveals the fact that you’re not interested in education, just budget caps on educational spending. The only question here is: “how do we deliver an education to all students?” First you figure that out, THEN you figure out how to pay for it, not the other way around.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/16/2015 - 06:11 pm.


              I would be interested to see what your household budget looks like?

              In most cases, one has to balance desired results, revenues, trade offs, quality, timeliness, etc. However if you believe that funding is unlimited, then I can understand why you believe your proposal seems logical. Where exactly do you see this “unlimited funding” coming from? How do you plan to minimize waste of the tax dollars you are taking from families to pay for this ideal school system?

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2015 - 10:26 pm.

                Backwards indeed

                John, stuff costs what it costs. You think you can walk into a car dealer and drive away with a new truck for $5,000? You don’t need unlimited funding, you need sufficient funding. No one said anything about unlimited funding. I assume they teach the difference between unlimited funding and sufficient funding in MBA school. The response to insufficient spending isn’t unlimited spending.

                You can minimize waste all you want, but it still costs what it costs because the majority of spending isn’t waste. Everyone wants efficiency but efficiency alone isn’t sufficient. You have the most efficient 60 HP motorcycle in the universe, but if you need to move an elephant you still need something with a bigger engine, and you need to pay for it.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/17/2015 - 07:45 am.


                  Since you are hesitant to share ideas regarding how to improve what we have within the budget we have, and you think we need to describe the “ideal” before identifying a cost.

                  “How do we deliver an education to all students?”

                  How would you propose we meet this goal?
                  How will we measure “an education”? What is it?
                  How will we measure to ensure “all students” have received this?
                  How will we hold the system accountable if they do not succeed?
                  What do you think the target cost will be relative to what we spend today?

      • Submitted by Steve Ulrich on 03/17/2015 - 11:54 am.

        no – you only provided your “8 steps” in the comments. your article was largely content-free.

        your link backs this up.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/17/2015 - 10:50 am.

    For What it Worth, Here’s My Observation

    We have a relatively clearly stated problem, we want to improve our education system and dramatically close the racial and ethnic education gaps in the state and in the MPLS and St. Paul school systems.

    I have three observations to offer.

    First, unfortunately the current crop of republicans has nothing to offer. In theory conservatives could make substantial contributions to the dialogue. However in practice all we’re getting is applications towards hidden agendas combined with incoherent assumptions about everything from learning to budgets. Hann is striking back at Dayton’s budget proposals with a “plan” to slice up the MPLS school district. Michelsen is attacking teacher’s unions under the guise of critiquing liberals. Appelen is a champion of spending caps on education. None of these approaches are serious attempts to work the problem. This isn’t just a Minnpost phenomena, such voices really do represent the breadth of republican contributions towards education policy. Hopefully future republicans will step forward with some kind genuine and serious contributions but in the meantime there’s just nothing to look at here.

    Unfortunately ignoring republicans doesn’t solve the problem. This brings me to my second observation. Those who ARE trying to work the problem are failing. Not because they’re “liberals” but because they lack the expertise and organization.

    In a recent article here in Minnpost R.T. Rybak penned an example of a contribution largely devoid of substance:

    While we can complain about the blizzard of platitudes that characterizes this conversation (I did), Rybak’s article offers a hint at the deeper problem. Rybak offers an example of:

    “…an offhand comment became one of the most profound statements I’ve heard about how we need to view closing the racial gaps we have in student achievement.”

    What was the “profound” statement? Someone observed that students who live with below zero temperatures have an easier time comprehending negative numbers than students who live in milder climates.

    Listen: When I was 7 or 8 years old my dad, who’d been in Vietnam, told me that the Vietnamese word for “ice” translates into “rock water”. Apparently the Vietnamese language, having emerged from a jungle region, has words for soft and hard, but not: “cold” because “cold” isn’t a or wasn’t a part of tropical life.

    OK, these are interesting anecdotes but they are not “profound” observations for anyone who knows anything about learning, language, or education. On the contrary, such observations are mundane knowledge for educators. I’m not trying to insult anyone, but what Rybak is really telling us here is that he’s not the guy we want working this problem. The problem isn’t that Rybak’s a liberal, the problem is that he’s simply on the wrong end of the learning curve and that’s NOT where we should be starting.

    My second obesrvation: We need and want experts, not dilettantes working this problem. Educators have long long long since converted such observations into practical teaching methodology. Who knows if Rybak can or ever will convert his profound observation into a practical suggestion of any kind? At any rate, we don’t need to wait for Rybak because the works already been done.

    And this brings me to my third and final observation. I’m not saying it’s easy but but if you’re going to work this problem you have to stay focused. Over the course of the last two weeks or so we’ve a blizzard of platitudes and mundane observations. One commentator points out that students deserve a plan, and it should be a good plan. Gee, thanks for that. Then we have initiatives regarding childhood screening and declarations that we need to fix parents, not students. Look, schools are not and cannot be vehicles for delivering social justice, health care, and economic security to the community at large; that’s not what schools do, and it’s certainly what teachers are trained to do.

    As real as all of these other problems are, they’re not education problems. Certainly they impact students but the problem facing educators is how to deliver an education to a student regardless of the challenges they bring into the classroom because educators will NEVER be able to elminate all of the challenges students bring into the classroom. You will always have students from less affluent, stable, immigrant, and diverse home environments. The point is that these students are NOT unteachable. We know how to teach these students, you just can’t dump them into and education system without the necessary and sufficientt resources and expect them to “thrive”.

    What I’m not seeing is basic credible scenarios with effective interventions. We have 33,000 students in the MPLS school system… right now. This isn’t about future generations. Identify the challenges, and deploy effective interventions. Or tell us what interventions you need to deploy so we can work and fight for the necessary funding and resources. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, but this is how you work the problem. We need to find a way to set aside the noise and focus on the problem. We don’t need guys like Rybak pretending that they have to “invent” a new education system, we have experts who can tell us how to do this.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/17/2015 - 06:32 pm.

      Still Waiting

      I agree that you have not provided any “basic credible scenarios with effective interventions”, a description of quality education, a rough cost estimate of this ideal system, or a way to measure and ensure success for all children.

      Please take a shot it rather than continuing to criticize others who are trying to help the kids who have been left behind for decades.

      I do agree with this statement. “Look, schools are not and cannot be vehicles for delivering social justice, health care, and economic security to the community at large; that’s not what schools do,” Yet that is exactly what Ed MN demands, they demand higher than market compensation and benefits with less job security risk. If the steps/lanes “social justice” model was gone, we could pay higher compensation to the best Teachers and to those that are willing to take on the challenges of working with the kids that really need the best Teachers. Instead we reward years served and classes taken with higher comp and easier classes / students.

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