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Facebook follies: 2012 backbiting finds its way into ’14 school-board race

In terms of hyper-local politics, it might be helpful to think of the Internet as a house made of very thin glass.

The Facebook link in question leads back to a December 2012 blog post by Nick Coleman decrying then-City Council member Don Samuels' decision to enter the city’s mayoral race.
MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson

In terms of hyper-local politics, it might be helpful to think of the Internet as a house made of very thin glass. You like, you share, you comment, forgetting how porous social media can be.

Facts? Feh — that’s so old media. Does anybody even read the stories at the other end of the links anymore? Or do they just click?

I raise this because during the last school-board election, candidates who were trying to play on the up and up got in trouble because of innuendo, mistruths and gossip their supporters circulated in service to their campaigns.

In recent days, a link has been circulating on the Facebook pages of several Minneapolis residents who are interested in the upcoming school-board election. On one page, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon’s campaign manager “liked” the link; on another, candidate Iris Altamirano “liked” a comment about her candidacy appended to the post.

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The link in question leads back to a December 2012 blog post by Nick Coleman decrying then-City Council member Don Samuels’ decision to enter the city’s mayoral race.

“It is important that people have a chance to remember that Mr. Samuels (and his political ally, Mayor Rybak) launched a highly inflammatory — and inaccurate — attack on the public schools of Minneapolis in early 2007 (although neither man had made the schools an issue during their election campaigns),” Coleman posted.

The purpose of said attack, he continued, was to further the interests of private and charter school operators who sought to siphon off tax dollars for themselves. He was republishing three columns he had written as a Star Tribune columnist at the time, which he complained had since “gone down the memory hole” and had to be retrieved from the library.

As promised, reproduced there were three columns taking Samuels to task for saying that Minneapolis’ North High School should be burned down in an interview with David Brauer published in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. In the same sentence, Samuels decried the school’s deplorable track record with African-American boys, noting that three-fourths were failing academically.

“Samuels says he read that 72 percent figure somewhere,” Coleman added. “I can’t find it. As far as I can tell, North is not the worst high school in the city. In fact, it has some good things going for it, including a dynamic principal who is making changes. In my mind, public schools need help from public officials. They don’t need a kick in the teeth.”

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Somebody get Coleman an intern. If he has the chops to resurrect his own material from the library database, he ought to be able to find even the most cursory data about Minnesota’s disgraceful racial and socioeconomic achievement gap.

Indeed all he’d need to find the story in question, so as to supply some context, would be Google:

“Though he’s earned headlines for calling on his own community to see its role in its problems, he will also slaughter white sacred cows if he thinks their failures hurt black kids,” Brauer wrote. “To Minneapolis liberals with a near-religious belief in public education, the man who as a single father raised his son by his first wife says, ‘My children will not darken the door of a Minneapolis Public School in this city at this time under these conditions. I’ve said burn North High School down! I can’t be paying as a taxpayer for the education of my neighbors and 72 percent of them are failing—meaning black boys. Something worse than vouchers could come along. If it works, if it sacrifices the entire school system, fine! Get rid of the damn thing! It hasn’t worked!’”

Two years after Coleman’s tirade, Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson used the same numbers when discussing the district’s plan — since reversed — to close North. The school had lost 75 percent of the 1,000 students it had in 2004.

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And it had the lowest test scores of the district’s seven high schools: 26 percent of students were proficient in reading; 8 percent in math and 4 percent in science.

There isn’t a viable candidate on the current slate who is running on a platform that does not include the eradication of this disparity. And at least so far there aren’t any who appear willing to countenance the kind of backbiting that characterized the 2012 contest.